God created us to be outside rather than inside. The sun is important to health. I am going to address the risks and benefits of phototherapy in the next two articles. As we are heading into one of the hottest months in the northern hemisphere, let’s discuss the risks of sun exposure.
The main risk of excessive sun exposure is skin cancer. Yes, too much sun can cause wrinkling, ageing and contribute to glaucoma, but for most, skin cancer is the greatest concern. Melanoma is the most dangerous of the skin cancers.
How do I lower my risks knowing that sun exposure is also necessary for good health? Avoid turning the skin red. The amount of exposure for this to occur will vary based on the pigment of the skin, the time of day exposed, and other factors. The ultraviolet rays including A and B, have different characteristics. Both types of rays can damage the skin in excess.
For some skin damage can occur in 15 minutes or less. The ozone layer has changed and many do not have regular sun exposure. How can you protect against this?
- Stay in the shade.
- Wear a hat.
- Use sunglasses.
- Wear enough clothing.
- If prolonged exposure is anticipated, use a sunscreen
The chemicals in sunscreen mainly protect against ultraviolet B rays, UVB. These products have chemicals including zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, oxybenzone, and mexoryl.
Try to purchase a broad spectrum SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher. SPF 15 will allow 1/15 of UVB rays to penetrate the skin. This means 93% of the UVB rays will be blocked. SPF 30 will block 97% of UVB rays. To block UVA rays which penetrate deeper into the skin, look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which may contain avobenzone or mexoryl.
To maximize the benefits of sunscreen, apply to skin every two hours or after swimming or toweling. Do not forget sunscreens do expire so search for the expiration date. A usual shell-life is 2-3 years. Also storage in a hot environment can deactivate the sunscreen.
Another way to lower the risk of sun damage is to be attentive to your skin. If there is a problem developing, seek treatment early on. Use the ABCDE questions.
Is the pigmentation asymmetric?
- Are the borders irregular?
- Is the color changing? (More than 2 shades)
- Is the diameter greater than a pencil eraser?
- Is the area elevated?
If one of these changes is developing, see your provider who may recommend a biopsy of the area.
The sun is also important for health and next issue I will focus on the sun as treatment, photo-therapy.