Just as drivers can feel rusty navigating the roads after the first snowfall of the year, it can take a little while to remember to get into a sun-protection habit when winter turns to spring.
In my clinic this month, I’ve noticed another sure sign of spring: sunburns and tan lines are showing up already.
I don’t need to educate Islanders on the benefits of the sun — it makes the Island a very fertile and beautiful place. Getting outdoors and enjoying the warmer temperatures is a great mood booster, too.
Sunshine does have its downside, however, including several health conditions connected to the sun’s UV radiation.
Here’s some advice on protecting yourself.
The sun can cause significant damage to eyes including photokeratitis, or eye sunburn — ouch! UV exposure is also suspected to cause overgrowth of tissues on the surface of the eye or pterygium — its symptoms can range from mild discomfort to impaired vision. Cataract development is also worsened by UV exposure.
When choosing sunglasses, go for ones offering 100 per cent UV protection, both UVA and UVB. The more area of your vision and face they cover, the more protection you’ll get.
The most important way sunglasses will protect your eyes: when you are actually wearing them! I keep a few inexpensive pairs stashed in various places so I’ll always have a pair when I need them.4
Melanoma is the most deadly type of skin cancer. There are factors that put some people at higher risk of melanoma, including genetic mutations, type of skin complexion and the types of moles you’re born with.
However the one risk factor you have the most control over is exposure to the sun’s UV rays.
Non-melanoma skin cancers
Squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas are not as deadly as melanoma — however they are much more common. They often require surgical removal and this can cause big problems when occurring in delicate areas like the face.
For squamous cell carcinoma of the skin, cumulative UV exposure increases your risk — meaning even usual sun exposure over the years can add up and lead to cancerous changes. For basal cell carcinoma, intense sun exposure and sunburn is the biggest risk.
Aging is not a disease and it is of course inevitable — but many outward signs of aging can be chalked up to sun exposure, particularly exposure to UVA rays.
Patients do ask me for help with signs of aging like sun spots and wrinkles. However our health system does not cover treatment for these non-cancerous changes to the skin. Some people choose to pay out-of-pocket for facial treatments to reverse sun damage.
My best advice to minimize the effects of aging is included in this article: protect your eyes and skin with sunglasses and sunscreen, and avoid too much time in the sun. This advice doesn’t help as much after the fact, so start now!
Avoidance: UV radiation is more intense midday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., peaking between noon and 1 p.m. Avoiding direct sun during those peak hours in particular will go a long way in reducing the above-mentioned risks. Beach tents or umbrellas offer both sun protection and relief from the heat. Consider a shade for your deck or outdoor area.
Sunscreen: Use it liberally and use it often! Here are a few sunscreen tips:
- Choose sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) 30 or higher.
- Look for broad-spectrum sunscreens that protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
- Don’t forget your lips! Keep SPF 30+ lip balm handy. Reapply often, especially after eating.
- Have someone help you get those hard-to-reach spots.
- Check the expiry date on your bottles — sunscreens often expire between seasons.
- Sunscreen is not recommended for babies younger than six months old since they could rub it in their mouth or eyes — better to opt for clothing and shade.
Coverage: In addition to sunglasses, think brimmed hats and loose, long-sleeved summer tops. There are many swimsuit options, especially for children, that come in long-sleeved styles — these are a great idea for long days at the beach when sunscreen can get worn off by sun and sand.
Find the balance
There are lots of health benefits, both social and physical, to being outdoors in the nicer weather. Using some of the strategies above can help minimize your risks of UV exposure while still enjoying the season.
Article by Dr. Laura O’Connor, cbc.ca