Safer in the Sun
By Laura Hannon, M.D.; Wendy Dutcher, NP; Kimberly Pflughaupt, NP
La Porte Physicians Primary Care
Summer time means sun! The beach, playing outside, splash pads and pools. It’s easy to remember sunscreen when you are planning a day of fun. But we also get sun exposure doing every-day things, like walking the dog, mowing the lawn, or even driving the car (love that sun roof!) The sun is warm and toasty and puts most of us in a great mood. But you need to be smart about it. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays adds up over time, and can increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Every year, nearly five million people are treated for skin cancer, and approximately 9,000 people die from melanoma.
“Most people don’t realize that skin cancer is the most common cancer in this country,” said Wendy Dutcher, NP at La Porte Physicians Primary Care in New Carlisle. “If awareness were higher, people would likely be more vigilant about protecting themselves. Even with all we know about skin cancer and its causes, nearly one-third of adult Americans still get sunburned each year.”
Research shows that while awareness of the risk is higher among women, MEN are actually more likely to be diagnosed with skin cancer. Men tend to spend more time outside over their lifetimes than women, and their personal grooming products are less likely to contain sunscreen. When outside on a sunny day for more than an hour, only 14 percent of men reported using sunscreen on their faces and other exposed body parts.
“A lot of times, if you aren’t planning a day of fun, sunscreen can be an afterthought. It’s important to think about using it any time you plan to be outside, whether for work or play,” said Kimberly Pflughaupt, NP at the New Carlisle office as well.
Here are some tips about protecting yourself:
- SPF Counts. The SPF number on a sunscreen reflects its effectiveness in blocking UV rays. While everyone should use a quality sunscreen with at least SPF 15, those with fair skin or prolonged exposure to the sun should consider using a product with SPF 50 or above.
- Application Errors. Body parts prone to heavy sun exposure (face, neck, shoulders) should receive a heavy application of sunscreen. Applying too thin a layer leaves you with gaps for the sun to blast through. Also, sunscreen does not last for 24 hours. Be sure to reapply often, especially if you are sweating or in water.
- Check Expiration Dates. Most sunscreen products are only good for 2-3 years, maximum, less if they’ve been exposed to high temperatures. Be sure to check the expiration date on your bottle. If you can’t find one, throw it out and invest in a new product.
- Avoid Skin Reactions. A variety of ingredient types are in sunscreens. If your skin reacts badly to one set of ingredients, try another brand. Sensitive skin especially needs protection, as it tends to be more susceptible to skin cancers.
“While skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, it’s also the most treatable,” said Laura Hannon, MD, a family medicine provider at La Porte Physicians Primary Care in New Carlisle. “Protection is important, but the most critical factor in surviving skin cancer is early detection. If you see something new or changing on your body, see a dermatologist or your primary care physician about it immediately. And don’t forget to check hidden places like your scalp, bottoms of your feet, and behind your ears.”
It’s important to remember that healthy sun exposure is vital to good health, enhancing sleep cycles, reducing the incidence of depression and increasing vitamin D levels. Taking precautions to keep your sun exposure controlled and appropriate allows you to benefit from all the sun has to offer.