[This piece was written by Anne Lawton, RN, community outreach nurse with St. Peter’s Cancer Care Center.]
The warm weather and sunny days have finally arrived! Heading outdoors is on most everyone’s mind, from working in the yard, to enjoying a hike or a picnic at the park. Whatever calls you outside, remember to“Slip, Slap and Slop” – slip on a t-shirt, slap on a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses, and slop on some sunscreen. Taking a few extra minutes to prepare for your time in the sun translates to a lifetime of benefits.
The sun has 3 types of UV (ultraviolet) rays – UVA; UVB and UVC. UVA rays always have the same intensity throughout the year, while UVB rays are more intense during the summer months. UVC rays are the strongest and most dangerous but are filtered by the atmosphere’s ozone layer and do not reach the Earth.
UVA rays penetrate the skin’s layers more deeply than UVB rays, but UVB rays are stronger and the primary cause of sunburn, skin cancer and cataracts. Both UVA and UVB rays can cause sunburn, premature aging and wrinkling of the skin.
When excessive UV rays penetrate the epidermis (the skin’s outer layer), melanin is produced as a response to the injury – also known as a tan. It is a myth that pre-tanning protects your skin. Quite simply, NO TAN IS SAFE; whether it is from the sun or from a tanning bed.
Tanning damages your skin and this damage accumulates over time. This accumulated damage, in addition to accelerating the aging process and causing wrinkling and age spots, also increases your risk for all types of skin cancer.
People at highest risk for skin cancer include those with red or blonde hair, fair skin, blue or green eyes, pale complexion, and/or a family history of skin cancer, especially melanoma. According to ACS Cancer Facts and Figures 2016, an estimated 76,380 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma this year. Be alert for changes in your skin, especially moles and dark spots on the skin.
To help as you inspect yourself, remember ABCDE:
A: Asymmetrical (irregular in shape)
B: Irregular Border
C: Color (shades of brown, black and blue)
D: Diameter (larger than an eraser head)
E: Evolving (changing in shape, size or color)
To protect your skin from harmful UV rays the American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a sunscreen that is waterproof and has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30. Also, do your best to avoid the sun during peak hours of 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Sunscreen breaks down and rubs off with normal wear, swimming and sweating, so don’t forget to re-apply approximately every two hours. Remember to slip, slap, slop and enjoy the outdoors!