“Tan, don’t burn.” “You own the sun.”
These early suntan lotion slogans, some accompanied by a famous picture of a cute baby with obvious tan lines, show just how much we didn’t know about sun damage back in the 1960s, ‘70s and even into the ‘80s. In those days, a deep, dark tan was considered a sign of good health.
Of course, we now know that’s not the right approach. Many of us have the sun-damaged skin to prove it.
While the sun certainly provides health benefits, including vitamin D and boosted serotonin levels, its rays can also be harmful to our skin. It can cause these skin cancers:
Basal and squamous cell; if diagnosed and treated early, these are easily curable
Melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer that can be deadly
Because sun damage can take years to turn cancerous, two things are clear:
1. Protecting your skin NOW is vital.
Despite all we now know about sun damage and skin cancer, social media is still full of incorrect advice.
“My daughter showed me a TikTok video that explained how getting a base tan would protect her,” says Lori I. “Even though she could clearly see the sun damage on my arms and chest from my tanning days back in the ‘80s, she was still determined to lay out.”
While you may not be able to convince your kids to stay out of the sun, you can coach them on how to protect themselves. That includes frequent and liberal use of sunscreen. See six sunscreen tips listed below.
2. Early detection is key.
Every year as part of your annual physical, you should get a skin check. During this brief exam, your provider will examine your entire body. He or she will also make note of any suspicious lesions or moles that may need to be rechecked, or refer you to a dermatologist, who specializes in skin health, for a closer look.
A skin check is especially important if you have:
Fair skin that burns, freckles or reddens easily
A family or personal history of skin cancer
Blue or green eyes
Blond or red hair
Certain types or a large number of moles
If you ask for a skin check as part of your annual physical, it should be covered by insurance at 100%. If you wish to get your skin checked outside your annual physical, there may be a charge. Either way, a regular skin exam can help catch any potential problems early, when they’re easier to treat.
July is Ultraviolet Safety Awareness Month. If you would like to schedule a skin check or talk to a provider about a skin concern, the ParTNers Center is here for you. Call us for an appointment at 615-741-1709.
Six sunscreen tips
1. Choose carefully. Make sure you buy sunscreen that:
Is broad spectrum, meaning it protects against UVA and UVB rays
Has an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher
2. Be generous. When it comes to sunscreen, you don’t want to skimp. Experts say the average adult should use one ounce of sunscreen cream or lotion — enough to fill a shot glass — to cover the whole body. As another way to measure, a typical five-ounce tube or bottle of sunscreen should only last an adult for about five uses.
3. Apply early, about 15 minutes before you go outside. It takes that long for sunscreen to penetrate your skin and provide the best protection. If you wait until you’re in the sun to apply, you’ll be unprotected for 15 minutes.
4. Reapply often. One application protects you about two hours, but much less if you’re swimming or sweating. Here are two important things to remember about reapplying:
SPF (sun protection factor) refers only to the proportion of UV rays it blocks. So, an SPF 70 does not protect you any longer than SPF 30. You still have to reapply regularly.
Even if your sunscreen is waterproof or water resistant, you must reapply.
5. Don’t forget your… There are several body parts that often get overlooked when applying sunscreen: the tops of the feet, backs of the knees and heels, and the back of the neck, scalp and ears. Do a mental scan from head to toe to be sure you cover all exposed skin.
6. Respect cloudy days. You may feel safe on overcast days, but some sun still comes through. While you may not burn, UV rays can damage your skin, especially over time.
To lower your skin cancer risk even more, wear a hat to protect the top of your head (an area hard to protect with sunscreen) and face (where the skin is more delicate and prone to damage) and avoid being in the sun during peak UV hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
Sources: American Academy of Dermatology, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Skin Cancer Foundation