The dog days of summer may still be a few months away, but it’s time to get back into the habit of regularly using sunscreen if you stopped during the last few months.
Although temperatures are still relatively cool, the risk of sunburn is increasing as the sun takes a higher angle in the sky and we spend more time outdoors.
“It doesn’t have to be hot or even sunny for you to suffer a sunburn or sun-induced skin damage,” says Dr. James Turek, a family medicine physician at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Garden City. “That’s why it’s so important to make wearing sunscreen a regular, year-round habit and to be extra vigilant protecting your skin during the spring and summer when damaging UV rays from the sun are strongest.”
Cumulative damage increases risk
Not only can sun exposure result in a painful sunburn, it can also cause skin cancer, the most common type of cancer diagnosed in the U.S. and around the world.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
Sun damage to your skin is cumulative, so the more exposure you receive over the course of your life, the greater your risk for skin cancer. Sun exposure also accelerates skin aging.
It’s especially important to avoid sunburns, which can substantially increase your risk for melanoma – a type of skin cancer that develops when the cells that create the tan or brown color in skin begin to grow out of control. Although less common than other types of skin cancer, melanoma is particularly dangerous because it’s likely to spread to other parts of the body if not caught and treated early.
Nearly 20 Americans die from melanoma every day, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
“It’s not an overstatement to say that regular use of sunscreen can save your life,” Dr. Turek says. “If you’re going to be outdoors, be sure to apply and reapply sunscreen regularly.”
Dr. Turek recommends choosing a broad- or full-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays and offers an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher.
Make sure to apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before sun exposure and reapply per the manufacturer’s instructions. You can apply sunscreen to children as young as 6 months of age; keep younger children in the shade as much as possible.
The brand and type of sunscreen (cream, gel, lotion, spray) matter less than how you apply it. Studies have shown that people tend to apply too little sunscreen, so make sure you’re using generous amounts of the product. Proper application can be especially difficult with sprays.
Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to parts of your body that are easily overlooked such as your forehead, the top of your ears, around your eyes, the tops of your feet (depending on footwear) and under movable straps and waistbands.
Wearing cosmetics that contain sunscreen is a good way to help protect your skin on a day-to-day basis, Dr. Turek says, but you’ll want to use a stronger form of sunscreen if you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors.
Avoid peak times
The best protection from the sun, Dr. Turek says, is to simply stay out of it, especially between the hours of 10 a.m.-4 p.m., which is when the sun’s rays are most direct.
Consider arranging outdoor activities for early morning or late evening, wearing a broad-rimmed hat when out during the middle of the day and seek overhead shelter, such as a covered porch or beach umbrella.
“Even if you’ve gone without proper sun protection in the past, it’s not too late to start,” Dr. Turek says. “Although applying sunscreen can take time, it’s important to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful UV rays every time you’re outside for an extended period.”
Dr. James Turek
Family Medicine Physician, Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Garden City
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Dr. James Turek is a family medicine physician who practices at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Garden City.Learn More
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Dr. James Turek
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Dr. James Turek is a family medicine physician who practices at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Garden City.