While exposure to the sun is necessary to ensure adequate Vitamin D production, too much of the sun is not a good thing. It is important, especially during the summer to protect your skin from the sun's ultraviolet radiation. The sun emits energy both that we can see and that we cannot see. Part of the energy we cannot see is termed ultraviolet light (UV light). UV light is arbitrarily divided into UV-A and UV-B.
Protection from sunlight is important for many reasons. UV exposure, both from sun and tanning beds, is the most common and avoidable risk factor for skin cancers including basal cell skin cancer, squamous cell skin cancer, and melanoma. In addition to skin cancer risk, sun exposure can cause in increase in the aging process. Long term exposure to sun can cause age spots, some of which can progress to skin cancer. UV exposure also decreases the amount of collagen in the skin and increases the amount of elastin. Collagen and elastin are opposing components in the skin which contribute to skin tightness. Collagen is good and helps to keep skin tight, while elastin is a major component in loose, baggy skin and wrinkles.
Sun exposure in the northern hemisphere is greatest during the summer months, particularly between 10am and 4pm. Just because you are inside does not mean that you are protected. Most glass windows only protect against a part of the ultraviolet spectrum. Interestingly, basal cell skin cancers are more common on the left side of the body and this is thought to be due to sun exposure while driving a car.
There are simple steps which can be done to decrease your sun exposure and protect your skin, the largest organ of the body.
· Wear sunscreen
· Wear long sleeve shirts, even in the summer
· Wear jeans and not shorts
· Wear a cap or large bandana to protect from sun exposure
· Sit in the shade, not out in the middle of the sun
· Beware of reflected sun exposure from concrete and other reflective surfaces
· Limit your outdoor activities between 10am and 4pm during the summer
· Avoid ultraviolet tanning beds and booths - these are as harmful as sun exposure
When choosing sunscreen, it is important to wear a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and an additional UV-A protection. The sun protection factor (SPF) is only a measure of protection against UV-B radiation, not UV-A radiation. It is also important to reapply every 90-120 minutes, sooner if there is excess sweating or swimming which can remove the protection.
As always, if you have significant sun exposure or notice a spot on the skin which is concerning, consultation with a physician, possibly a dermatologist, is always warranted. For patients with extreme sun exposure, yearly consultation with a dermatologist is a good idea to ensure that there are no concerning moles.