The sun is an amazing star. It creates our planet’s gravitational pull keeping us from spinning into the atmosphere. It generates heat and light from complex nuclear fusion. It rises and sets with absolute regularity. Cultures across time have honored the healing and life-giving aspects of the fiery sun.
But the sun has another side, too, and we are starting to feel the very real effects of years of unprotected sun worship in the form of skin cancer, dehydration, and heat sickness.
June 1 to June 8 is National Sun Safety Week. The week is dedicated to raising awareness of the dangers of too much sun exposure and to promote safety throughout the hot summer months.
Practice sun safety during time spent outside
Getting out of the house and into the warm summer sun is one of the things we look forward most during the long cold winters each year. There are literally hundreds of outdoor activities you can do depending on where you live. Activities will be different from the desert to the mountains and out toward the coast. Here are some fun ideas.
- Team sports
However, enjoying these activities should be done while employing some sun safety practices.
The risk of skin cancer in the summer
The most recent numbers from the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta are from 2011. In this look at the statistics of skin cancer in the United States, it was estimated that over 65,000 people were diagnosed with skin melanomas in that time. Men had more cases, at around 38,000, and reported cases for women were 27,000. Out of those diagnosed over 9,000 people died from the condition.
We are at risk of sun damage any time of the year but it increases during the summer when we are more inclined to be outdoors and not cover our skin. There are many people who also have an increased risk of developing skin cancer such as fair-skinned individuals. Some moles can also indicate cancer and a family history is another concern. It is recommended that everyone consult with a dermatologist to determine if cancer is present and to treat it quickly and effectively.
The most common scale to determine if a melanoma is present is to use the ABCDE system.
- A is for asymmetry: A symmetric mole is less of a concern than one where the shape of both sides do not match.
- B is for is for boarder irregularity: If the edges of a mole or growth are ragged, blurred, or notched there may be a cause for concern.
- C is for color: If the color of the mole is irregular with darker and lighter spots it should be checked by a doctor.
- D is for diameter: Moles are not usually bigger than the size of a pencil eraser.
- E is for evolution: If there are any changes in a mole including bleeding, itchiness, size, or shape it raises a concern.
Pain and skin cancer
Of course, skin cancer can be devastating to anyone but if you are already dealing with the effects of a chronic pain condition added discomfort needs to be avoided at all costs.
Skin cancer also causes pain. In fact, areas of the skin that are tender, painful, and itch are one of the first signs of skin cancer. Our Pain Doctor sister site also has a great resource on cancer pain and the many forms it can take.
Sun safety practices
Of course, the only way to reduce your risk of skin cancer is to practice sun safety. The website for Sun Safety Week offers a safety tip of the day, each of them essential for keeping your skin healthy and enjoying the summer sun this year.
- Insect repellant and sunscreen: Did you know that bug spray reduces the effectiveness of sunscreen? All this really means is that you’ll need to reapply your sun screen more frequently if you’re also wearing bug repellant.
- Local UV index: The best way to plan outdoor activities is to plan around the times when the sun’s rays are most harmful. Check with your local weather station to see what the ultraviolet index will be for the day.
- Shadow and shade: One of the best ways to stay outside but reduce your exposure to the sun is to stay in the shade. If you’re in full sun, use the shadow rule. If your shadow is short you’re being exposed to the sun more directly so it is time to seek out the shade.
- Sunglasses: The color or the darkness of your sunglasses isn’t a good indicator of whether or not they are protecting your eyes from the sun. You want to look for sunglass labels that indicate they block 99% of UV rays.
- Yearlong protection: Choose the right sunscreen for all of your outdoor activities. Water can reflect the sun’s rays, as can snow, so don’t be fooled to thinking that you’re safe in different seasons.
Sun protection factor
Most people don’t exactly know what the SPF number on their sunscreen means. Choosing the highest number may not be all it takes to be protected. The number refers to the amount of time you could spend in the sun with the sunscreen versus without it. A 30 SPF sunscreen technically means you could spend 30 times longer in the sun with the sunscreen than without it. Instead of one minute you could spend 30 minutes. However, this is a very misleading form of measurement since it doesn’t mean you can apply the sunscreen once during the day.
The lowest recommended SPF is typically 30. It should be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure and reapplied frequently throughout the day especially after sweating or swimming.
What fun activities do you have planned this summer and how will you practice sun safety?
Image by Donny Nunley via Flickr