Health

Sun Damage When We’re Not Looking

The skinny on protecting our skin during summer's hottest days

Most of us are likely to be outside for a good chunk of this holiday weekend and beyond. We’ll wear sunscreen when we’re at a parade or backyard barbecue — but will we protect ourselves when we’re not basking in the sun?

And can it really hurt us if we’re only unprotected out there for a few minutes?

“Early sun damage can set you up for problems down the road,” said one dermatologist.

“People are getting outdoors more and more,” said Dr. Scott Fosko, chair of the dermatology department at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. Many people know to wear sunscreen when they’re on the beach or poolside, he told LifeZette — but they forget to apply it when they’re doing other activities like being on the water, washing their cars, attending a sports event, or even skiing during the winter. Those are the times when people really put themselves at risk, especially if they go out unprotected regularly.

Fosko sees a lot of people with skin cancer on their left arm, which is exposed to the sun while driving. So that hour-long daily commute — in any season — could push up your risk for developing cancer.

Sun exposure can hamper your overall health if you have a compromised immune system. Patients who have had transplants, for example, have weaker immune systems, and that can make them more susceptible to skin cancer.

“That’s a group of people who really need to be tuned in to their skin,” Fosko said.

The Cover Up
Whether your risk is low or high, applying sunscreen and wearing protective clothing can go a long way toward cut the risk of skin cancer. Limiting exposure, especially during the peak hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., can also help.

The type of sunscreen you use is equally important, though most of us know to look for UVA and UVB protection. Fosko said people using sprays need to be vigilant to spray it directly on their skin and rub it in. He said many people seem to spray themselves and try to get out-of-the-way of the mist — which doesn’t work when it comes to covering yourself.

“It’s more challenging with the sprays,” he said.

“UV damage to your eyes can start in as little as 15 minutes,” said one vision expert.

Meanwhile, New York City announced a proposal offering free sunscreen at dispensers throughout playgrounds, beaches, parks, and pools.

The effort is in collaboration with the Melanoma Foundation of New England, a Massachusetts-based non-profit that sets up sunscreen dispensers supported by fundraisers and public-private partnerships. Each dispenser costs $200, and sunscreen packages also run $200 — enough for about 600 people. In Boston, the foundation has about 50 dispensers funded by local hospitals and public health advocacy groups.

But even if you live in a major city, don’t expect sunscreen to be on hand wherever you go — bring your own.

The Eyes Have It
The Vision Council reports that 34 percent of 10,000 adults surveyed have experienced symptoms of prolonged ultraviolet (UV) ray exposure, including trouble seeing, eye irritation, or red and swollen eyes.

“UV damage to your eyes can start in as little as 15 minutes,” Dr. Justin Bazan, the group’s medical adviser, said in a statement. “Many Americans have a ‘passive’ relationship with their sunglasses, and they don’t realize the dangerous health consequences that can occur from overexposure to the sun’s rays without the right eye protection.”

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The report says that three-quarters of Americans are concerned about eye problems from the sun, but only 31 percent use sunglasses or other UV-protective eye wear each time they’re outside. Just 31 percent of the people knew UV rays can impact vision by sunburning the eyes (photokeratitis), 26 percent knew it could cause cataracts, and 21 percent linked it to age-related macular degeneration. Just 39 percent of us wear eye protection when we’re outside for more than two hours.

We may not be so smart when we buy sunglasses, either: More people valued comfort and affordability before UV protection.

Make sure to choose a broad spectrum filtration in sunglasses, Fosko noted. It’s vital because many people forget to put lotion on their eyelids, which is another hot spot for skin cancer to show up.

“It’s important and it’s also hard to get sunscreen everywhere around your eyes,” he said.

Protecting ourselves is key, Fosko said: Skin cancer is affecting people at younger ages than in the past. He sees a lot of women ages 15 to 29 with melanoma, mostly due to using tanning beds. Older men are also developing skin cancer.

“Early sun damage can really set you up for problems down the road,” Fosko said. “That [protection] can make a big difference.”

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