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Not Just Sunscreen: What to Know About Sun Safety

May 13, 2020

The sun’s out, the temperature’s warming and you want to head outdoors. It’s only natural, especially since circumstances have had us spending much of the last couple of months in our homes. But before you head outside, make sure you’re practicing the basics of sun safety! 

Many people don’t think of sun safety until summer, when the temperatures in Tennessee are raging hot and the sun is beating down. The reality, though, is that you should incorporate basic habits to help prevent skin cancer year-round.

And sun safety goes beyond simply slathering on sunscreen, though that is an important piece of the puzzle. As we get ready for the warmer months, let’s take a few minutes to talk about why protecting your skin is so important—and how you can do so.

Why Sun Safety Is Important
Skin cancer is startlingly common. In fact, more cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States than all other cancers combined. One in five Americans will develop some type of skin cancer by age 70.

While we often think of skin cancer as only affecting those who are older and Caucasian, the reality is that it can be diagnosed in any person at any timeWhen diagnosed in people of color, skin cancer is often not discovered until its later stages, making it more difficult to treat.

Olyn Fred Moore, III
O. Fred Moore, III, MD

“Skin cancer affects people of all ages, races and genders,” says Fred Moore III, MD, general surgeon with West Tennessee Medical Group. “It doesn’t discriminate, which is why it’s so important for every person to take sun safety seriously and take steps to protect the skin.”

Sun Safety Basics
Wondering how the sun causes skin cancer? The sun emits two types of ultraviolet rays, ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B. These rays damage the skin, which can lead to signs of aging and skin cancer, even if you don’t ever burn.

So, how can you keep your skin safe? That’s an important question—and the answer is probably more complex than you’ve previously thought about. 

Let’s step through some basic habits that can help you keep your skin healthy and protected from the sun’s harmful UV rays:

  • Slather on the sunscreen. Yes, the title of this article is “beyond sunscreen,” but we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out this sun safety best practice. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends choosing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and applying it to all skin that will be exposed to the sun. Remember to apply sunscreen to easy-to-miss spots, like your toes and ears, and use a lip gloss containing sunscreen to protect your lips.
  • Don’t forget to reapply. You should apply your first coat of sunscreen about a half hour before heading outside. From there, you should reapply at least every two hours, or more often if you’re sweating or swimming. (So, frequently if you’re outside in the Tennessee heat!).
  • Wear sunscreen even when it’s cloudy. Why? Because 80% of the sun’s harmful UV rays still make it to earth even when it’s cloudy. If you’re headed outdoors or even spending time by the windows, it’s best to safeguard your skin.
  • Rethink the “safe” tan. The only safe tan is the kind that comes from a bottle! An increased amount of melanin in your skin—what we call a “tan”—is actually a sign of skin damage. When your skin is exposed to the sun, melanin production increases to try and protect your skin.
  • Choose your outdoor time carefully. The sun’s rays are hottest and most intense between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so it’s recommended to avoid the outdoors during that time. If you’re outside during that time, seek shade whenever possible. Also pay attention to the Ultraviolet Index that’s part of the weather forecast—take even more sun safety precautions on days when the index is 5 or higher.
  • Stay out of direct sunlight when possible. If you’re spending time outside, try and stay in a shady area. While laying out in the sun is so tempting, it’s better to protect yourself by soaking up the warmth of the sun while staying protected by an umbrella or other shade.
  • Add some accessories. While sunscreen is an incredible defense against the sun’s harmful rays, it’s hard to apply sunscreen effectively on certain areas of our skin. Protect your scalp, ears, neck and chest by wearing a broad-brimmed hat, and wear sunglasses that block at least 99% of UV light.
  • Steer clear of the tanning bed. OK, so this one is not directly related to sun safety, but it is a part of skin cancer prevention. Many people think the tanning bed is a safer alternative to the sun, but the reality is that spending time in a tanning bed just once can greatly increase your risk of skin cancer later in life.

Even if you take every precaution against the sun, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends having a dermatologist perform a skin check on an annual basis. West Tennessee Healthcare offers comprehensive dermatology servicesfind a provider here.