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Have Fun in the Sun (Safely)!

Just a few decades ago no one thought much of getting one or two sunburns while growing up, it was just a part of playing outside!  Now we know that sun exposure in childhood and young adulthood are closely linked with the risk of developing melanoma later in life. In fact, 5 or more blistering sun burns can increase your risk by as much as 68%!  Of course, a number of factors including genetics, having a greater number of moles, or being prone to sunburns also contribute to this risk.  The good news is that there are ways for everyone to protect themselves and lower risk.

  • Wear Sunscreen – apply a broad spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 15 to all areas of uncovered skin before you go outside, even when it’s cloudy and cool. Don’t forget to reapply every 2 hours, after swimming, or after sweating and/or toweling off. It takes a lot of sunscreen, about 2 tablespoons, to adequately protect the average adult. (A nickel-sized amount to your face alone!) Most of us aren’t using enough.
  • Wear Protective Clothing – Wear long sleeves and pants when possible, and wear a rash guard while swimming. Sun safe clothing options are available from a number of manufacturers with light weight, tight weaves to keep you both cool and protected.
  • Wear a Hat – Your hair can’t provide complete protection to your scalp, and changes to skin under hair are hard to detect, so wear a hat made of canvas or another tightly woven fabric.
  • Wear Sunglasses – Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays which can contribute to cataracts and other sun damage.
  • Stay in the Shade – While sitting in the shade doesn’t prevent all UV exposure it does reduce exposure. Find a nice tree or bring an umbrella with you if you’re going to be outside for an extended period without shelter.

When to see a health care professional:

You should speak with your healthcare provider at your annual physical about how you can reduce your risk of skin cancer and any concerns you have.  However, if you notice a change in your skin (a growth, a sore that won’t heal, a new or changing mole) don’t wait – make an appointment with your primary care provider or a dermatologist to have it examined. Not all skin cancers look or develop the same way, and it’s better to err on the side of caution.

 

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