Dr. Emily Solow encourages summer sun safety
It’s summer time and the warm weather means spending more time outdoors and in the sun. What are the benefits to getting outdoors and soaking up the sun?
Absorbing a healthy amount of Vitamin D, which also occurs through sun exposure, may be a concern for you. While there are no clear guidelines for this, you can try exposing your arms and legs to the sun for 20 – 30 minutes a day, two-to-three times a week during the spring and fall, and then reduce that time to 15-to-20 minutes during the summer months. Sunlight and darkness trigger the release of hormones in your brain. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. Serotonin is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused. At night, darker lighting triggers the brain to make another hormone called melatonin. This hormone is responsible for helping you sleep. Without enough sun exposure, your serotonin levels can dip. Low levels of serotonin are associated with a higher risk of major depression with seasonal pattern (formerly known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD). This is a form of depression triggered by the changing seasons.
What are the dangers of overexposure?
The sun emits three types of UV rays—UVA, UVB, and UVC. Fortunately, UVC rays, the most dangerous for our skin, are absorbed in our atmosphere before they can reach us. Both UVA and UVB wavelengths traverse the atmosphere. These can damage our skin and cause skin cancers. UVA rays are typically responsible for aging (wrinkles), while UVB rays cause burning.
Though you may crave a golden summer tan, consider that protected skin may offer longer lasting beauty. In addition to causing skin cancer, which affects one-out-of-five Americans during their lifetime, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause painful burns and peeling. Exposure over time can leave you with wrinkles and excess skin pigmentation that may make you appear older.
How should someone care for a sunburn?
Put a cold, damp towel on your skin. Do this for 10 or 15 minutes a few times every day. That will help take some of the heat out of your skin. You also can take frequent cool baths or showers to help relieve the pain. As soon as you get out of the bathtub or shower, gently pat yourself dry, but leave a little water on your skin. Then, apply a moisturizer to help trap the water in your skin. This will help ease the dryness.
Use a moisturizer that contains aloe vera or soy to help soothe sunburned skin. Lotions that have something called aloe vera in them help make your skin feel better. Be careful not to use lotions or creams that have any of these things listed in the ingredients: petroleum, benzocaine, or lidocaine. Things with petroleum trap the heat in your skin and benzocaine and lidocaine can bother and irritate your skin.
Take ibuprofen to help reduce any swelling, redness and discomfort.
Drink extra water. Sunburn makes you get very dry inside, so you need to drink a lot. Drinking extra water when you are sunburned helps prevent dehydration.
Leave blisters alone. If your skin blisters, don’t pop them because that makes the sunburn worse. Blistering skin means you have a second-degree sunburn. Allow the blisters to heal and protect you from infection.
If you feel sick, dizzy, weak, sick to your stomach, cold, or just not yourself, seek medical care. These may be signs of a more serious problem.
Take extra care to protect sunburned skin while it heals. Wear clothing that covers your skin when outdoors. Tightly-woven fabrics work best. When you hold the fabric up to a bright light, you shouldn’t see any light coming through.
Are there signs I should be aware of for skin cancer?
No matter what type of skin protection aids you use, regularly monitor your skin for signs of skin cancer.
When examining your skin, look for moles with asymmetry in contour, irregular borders, and color that varies within the same mole, as well as a diameter that is larger than a pencil eraser, along with a mole that evolves or changes.
Schedule an annual check with your family physician or dermatologist, and report any new, non-healing skin lesions or changes in the skin.
What is your best advice for those wishing to enjoy the summer while staying protected?
Protection is key.You can shield your skin from the most intense rays by avoiding sun exposure between 10 am and 2 pm.
You should also cover your skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects against both UVA and UVB rays. The sunscreen should contain the following ingredients: avobenzone and benzophenone, which are chemical ingredients; and titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which are physical ingredients. Each component protects the skin in its own way.
Sunscreen should have an Sun Protection Factor (SPF) number no lower than thirty. SPF is a measure of time before skin will burn when exposed to the sun. Assuming that with no sunscreen at all, your skin would get burned within 20 minutes. Whereas, applying a sunscreen with SPF 30 would theoretically provide protection 30 times longer, or for as many as ten hours.
Apply one ounce, or a shot glass size volume, of sunscreen over your entire body 30 minutes before sun exposure. Despite the SPF, sunscreen should be re-applied in two hour intervals, and more often if you are sweating or swimming. Waterproof sunscreen does not exist. Water resistant indicates the product should be effective for up to 40 minutes in the presence of water or sweat.
If you regularly perform watersports or other activities in the sun, SPF clothing, including hats, shirts, pants, and accessories, can provide you with additional protection.
Take shade breaks as necessary and spend time indoors to give your body a break.
Stay properly hydrated. Consume extra amounts of water while outdoors and in the sun. Heat and sun exposure will draw water out of your body.
Idea/Concept: UPMC Susquehanna
Videography: Andrew Moore
Video Editing: Andrew Moore, Sara Vogt
Writing: UPMC Susquehanna
Anchor: Rhonda Pearson
Correspondent: Sara Vogt
Produced by Vogt Media
Funded by UPMC Susquehanna