We’ve all done it. Whether basking in the rays on a park bench, lounging on the shores of a Caribbean beach, or feeling the sun’s warmth on our bare legs for the first time after a long winter, there’s no doubt that sunlight makes us feel good. As the source of a number of important elements, including the formation of vitamin D, sunlight is essential to our general health, mood and well-being. Being active, enjoying the outdoors and soaking up the sun are all aspects of enjoying the summer season. However, too much of a good thing can be harmful if the right precautions to protect yourself are not taken. Finding an appropriate balance between the risks and benefits of sunlight is critical.
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The risks of overexposure
Unprotected or excessive sun exposure has been shown to be related to multiple aesthetic, skin and health issues including hyperpigmentation, skin aging (wrinkles), sunburns, actinic keratosis, skin cancer and cataracts.
There is currently no specific recommendation for a “safe” number of hours of sun exposure per day, to avoid these skin-related complications. However, a strong correlation has been shown between our total lifetime sun exposure and our risk of developing squamous cell and basal cell cancer.
Repeated or prolonged unprotected sun exposure, particularly if it leads to repetitive sunburns, may potentially increase your risk of developing melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. It is for these health related issues that awareness and precaution are necessary when enjoying the sun.
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Sun protection recommendations
The best way to prevent health-related complications is to restrict our lifetime sun exposure. Sun avoidance or reduction between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., wearing a hat, protective clothing, polarized sunglasses and regularly applying an appropriate sunscreen are essential to reducing the negative impacts of UV radiation.
Sunscreens contain filters that can absorb the harmful UVA and UVB radiation. An effective sunscreen has a broad-spectrum of protection that can absorb both types. The SPF represents the efficacy of the sunscreen to protect against harmful UV radiation. Everyone should use a sunscreen with a SPF of 30 or higher, apply it at least 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure, and reapply both every two hours and after water exposure.
If you do happen to get a minor sunburn this summer, relieve your skin discomfort with a cool compresses or soak, calamine lotion or aloe vera-based gels.
When should you contact your health care provider?
Physicians are well trained and aware of complications and risks associated with prolonged or damaging sun exposure. If you have a skin lesion and you are uncertain if you should consult your family physician, here’s the ABCDE rule to help you identify a potentially dangerous lesion:
- A - ASYMMETRY (bisected lesion)
- B - BORDER irregularities (abnormal or uneven edges)
- C - COLOUR variegation (brown, red, black or blue/gray and white)
- D - DIAMETER (approximately 5mm)
- E - EVOLVING (lesion changing in size, shape, colour or a new lesion)
Keep in mind that the screening criteria serve only as a guide to help physicians recognize suspicious lesions. If you are in any way concerned about a mole, skin discoloration or potentially have an increased risk factor for skin cancer (i.e. high number of common nevi (moles), fair skin, excessive prolonged sun exposure, history of sunburns and a positive family history) don’t hesitate to contact your Medisys Healthcare team. We will be pleased to assist and direct you to the best possible resources for the treatment of your sun related health issues. Now let’s all get active and enjoy the summer months!
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