Why You Need To Get Smart About Sun Exposure

In Features, Magazine by RI Magazine

BY MICHAEL SCHUTZ, MD

The days are getting longer and the temperatures are warming. I live at the Jersey shore and look forward to getting outside to the beach, pool, and out on a boat. The sun feels great on a beautiful day, and not just because we’ve been cooped up all winter; Vitamin D is produced from UV light exposure and can almost instantly improve our energy levels. While you can get some Vitamin D through dietary sources, the amount pales (no pun intended) to the amount you get via sun exposure.

Yet sun exposure comes with a host of concerns. The UV light in sunshine can break down the collagen and elastin in your skin and cause wrinkles. That concern, of course, falls on the minor end of the spectrum. On the serious end of the spectrum you find sunburn, skin cancers, and melanoma.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in humans and UV light is the biggest risk factor. There are 3 types main types of skin cancer, squamous cell cancer, basal cell cancer, and melanoma. The first 2 types are the most common types of cancer and strongly related to sun exposure. These cancers are frequently found in areas that receive the most sun exposure, such as the head, ears, and neck. Usually they are less aggressive and respond to local therapy when found early. Melanoma can be a much more aggressive cancer that can be found on any area of the body.

Risk factors for skin cancer include:
Lighter skin color, amily or personal history of skin cancer, sun exposure, prior sunburns—especially at a young age, indoor tanning, skin that burns easily or has many freckles, blue or green eyes, blonde or red hair color, and a large numbers of moles.

The protection from cancer and wrinkles begins with avoiding sun exposure. A hat, umbrella, sunglasses and spending time in the shade are important. Consider long sleeves and pants if you are going to be out for prolonged periods. Staying out of the sun from 10 am to 4 pm avoids the most intense rays. Think about a broad brimmed hat to protect your neck and ears.

And don’t let cooler temps lull you into a false sense of security. One of the worst sunburns I ever had was skiing in Colorado in April with the high sun angle and reflection of the sunlight off the snow. I applied sunscreen but it was not complete and the uncovered areas were badly burned.

Sunscreen is very important. Sun protection factor (SPF) 15 sunscreen blocks 93 % of the UV radiation. You want a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB radiation. Higher SPF increases the protection slightly so use at least 15. Remember to reapply liberally to make sure it is effective.

Look at your skin and get an idea of the moles and freckles you have. If you see any changes or new moles, contact your physician.

Like everyone else, I love going outside to enjoy a sunny beautiful day. Riding my bicycle, going to the beach or boardwalk or paddling a kayak are so much fun. You just need to be smart about. Luckily, it’s easy if you take the time.

Dr. Michael Schutz is a urologist practicing at the Jersey Urology Group in Somers Point, NJ.

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