Summer Fun in the Sun: How to Protect Your Skin from the Sun

Summer is an exciting time of year, with many people enjoying outdoor activities such as camping, fishing, water skiing, and golfing. Exposure to the sun’s rays can lead to the development of skin cancer and permanent damage of the skin’s collagen and elastic fibers. When your skin is damaged by the sun’s rays, it makes more melanin in an attempt to protect your skin from further damage. This causes the skin to change color, resulting in a burn or tan. While many people look forward to a summer tan, every time you tan, your skin is being damaged. This damage accumulates over time and can accelerate the aging process and increase your risk for skin cancer. 

There are three different types of skin cancer: basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma. Early detection and treatment are very important with all three types. Basal cell carcinoma appears most often on sun-exposed areas like the face, scalp, ears, chest, back, and legs. The most common appearances of basal cell carcinoma are small dome-shaped bumps with a pearly white color, and sores that bleed and heal only to recur. If you have already had one basal cell carcinoma, you have a 40% risk of getting a second carcinoma within five years. Additionally, multiple basal cell carcinomas or other skin cancers also increase your risk for melanoma. 

Squamous cell carcinomas most often appear as crusted or scaly patches on the skin with a red, inflamed base, a growing tumor, or a non-healing ulcer. These patches are usually found on sun-exposed areas like the face, neck, arms, scalp, backs of the hands, and ears. However, they can also occur on the lips, inside the mouth, or anywhere else on your body. If squamous cell carcinomas are left untreated, they can destroy the tissues surrounding the tumor. Aggressive types of squamous cell carcinomas can also spread to the lymph nodes. However, both basal and squamous cell carcinomas are easily treated if detected early. 

The third and last type of skin cancer is melanoma, and it can be deadly if not detected early. Melanoma is characterized by the uncontrolled growth of pigment-producing cells. They can appear on the skin suddenly and without warning, but they can also develop on an existing mole. They most frequently appear on the upper back, torso, lower legs, head, and neck. More than 75% of all skin cancer deaths are from melanoma, with nearly 20 Americans dying from melanoma each day. If melanoma is detected and treated before it reaches the lymph nodes, it has a 98% percent five-year survival rate.

This can all seem scary, but one of the best things you can do to prevent skin cancer is to be aware of this information. Recognition of changes in the skin is the best way to detect early melanoma. Examine your body front and back in the mirror, then look at the right and left sides with your arms raised. Bend your elbows and look carefully at your forearms, back of the upper underarms, and palms. Make sure to check the backs of your legs and feet, the spaces between your toes, and on the soles of your feet. For the back of your neck and scalp, use a hand mirror or have your partner examine those areas. Don’t forget to part your hair and check your scalp, too! For more information on how to spot skin cancer, click here for more information. 

To prevent skin cancer, make sure to wear protective clothing like long-sleeved shirts, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses whenever possible. Seek out shade when you can and remember that the sun’s rays are the strongest between 10am and 2pm. If your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade. Make sure to protect your kids, too! Have them play in the shade, use protective clothing, and apply sunscreen. Sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers, including melanoma. Sunscreen should be applied every day to exposed skin if you will be outside. Make sure to apply 15 minutes before going outdoors and apply to all exposed areas, paying special attention to the face, ears, hands, and arms. Coat the skin liberally and rub it in thoroughly. Don’t forget that lips can get sunburned too, so apply a lip balm that contains sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Sunscreen should be re-applied every two hours or after swimming or perspiring heavily. Make sure to choose a water-resistant sunscreen and reapply as directed. Also, Niacinamide 500mg twice a day has been shown to decrease the number of new basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas by 23% after one year of taking the supplement, so if you are at high risk of developing skin cancer, you should consider taking this supplement.

Summer is a time to enjoy the outdoors, but it’s important to know the dangers of sun exposure and what you can proactively do to protect yourself and your loved ones from the sun’s harmful rays. With proper precaution and protective gear, there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to enjoy everything that the outdoors has to offer!