As summer approaches, so do the fun-filled days of sun and surf. However, while most healthcare professionals are focused on the health and wellbeing of their clients and patients, it is all too easy to forget to look after your own wellness – especially when it comes to sun protection. Did you know that even one blistering sunburn during adolescence can nearly double a person’s chance of developing skin cancer? Furthermore, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, experiencing 5 or more blistering sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 can increase your risk of melanoma by 80%, and nonmelanoma skin cancer risk by 68%! Winter can feel like an eternity, and most of us are only all too willing to embrace the warmth of the sun with open arms (and faces) once the thermometer begins to rise. However, it IS possible to embrace the sun a little too closely. After as little as one hour of direct exposure, unprotected skin may begin to burn. For people with fair skin tones, this may be even sooner. There are also those who have an increased sensitivity to the sun’s rays, and may burn more easily. Certain oral contraceptives, tetracycline-based antibiotics, and St. John’s Wort can all increase the skin’s sensitivity to UV radiation, and therefore burn more easily. Early signs of burns include reddened skin that is hot to the touch. After a short while, general fatigue may begin to set in, along with mild dizziness, and nausea. Remember, you might not feel thirsty after all of this! Burns are the result of overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, and the biggest source of UV radiation around is the sun. But how much sun is too much sun? On its own, UV light cannot be seen, nor can it be felt. The outside temperature is not a good indicator of UV light, because a summer breeze may make you feel cooler; and besides, UV light carries the same strength (and “burning power”) regardless of temperature. The higher the sun’s position in the sky, the stronger the UV radiation will be. This UV radiation is measured on an index of 0 to 11, and looks something like this:
A higher UV index indicates a higher UV intensity, and correspondingly higher risk of burn. Therefore, it is particularly important to protect yourself from the sun, especially if you plan on spending some time outside to enjoy some lovely summer weather! The UV index from the sun is highest during midday hours, usually between 10am and 4pm. Remember that sunburns come from UV light. While thick cloud cover may prevent much of the sun’s UV radiation from reaching your skin, thin cloud cover can offer little to no protection at all. Therefore, remember to stay in the shade during hours when the UV index is at its highest. It is vital for those with an increased risk of sunburns to be aware of when the sun is at its highest point in the sky because that is when the risk of burn is greatest. Those wishing to avoid a burn should also remember to wear clothing that protects exposed skin, wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect the face and neck, and to drink plenty of water. Sunglasses are also important. Your eyes are actually more vulnerable than your skin to sun-related injuries because they lack the skin’s natural defenses against the sun. Sunscreen should also be worn at all times while outside. Ensure that the label includes a strength of 15 SPF (sun protection factor) or higher. You should also ensure that the sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays. In some cases, manufacturers will indicate this by labeling the product as “broad spectrum.” Sunscreen should be applied liberally at least 20 minutes before sun exposure. Remember to apply to all exposed areas of skin, including those that are delicate or are exposed more than other areas. These areas include ears, lips, neck, the tops of feet, hands, and even the scalp. Sunscreen should be applied at least every 2 hours, or as indicated on the bottle. Note that heavy sweating or swimming may rinse off some product, and create the need to reapply sooner. Also, remember to take care of your sunscreen! If a product is older than 1-2 years, consider replacing it. Sometimes, we end up spending a little too much time in the sun, despite our best efforts. If a burn does occur, it may heal in just a few days. The CDC recommends aspirin or ibuprofen to relieve pain and possible fever. Remember to drink plenty of water, and soothe any burns with a cool bath or wet cloth. Aloe may provide additional relief. If the skin begins to blister, cover the area with clean gauze to prevent infection. Do not break the blisters. In some cases, the burn may be more serious. Seek medical attention if:
- Burns cover more than 15% of the body
- You are dehydrated
- Fever above 101 Fahrenheit
- Extreme pain lasts longer than 48 hours
Summer can be an exciting time of year, full of family gatherings, barbecues with friends, and vacation with the kids. By taking time for your own wellbeing and following the necessary precautions to protect your skin, you can dive into summer worry-free.