CHA Physician Offers Sun Safety Tips
As the New England weather finally warms up, it is time to think about sun safety as we spend more time out of doors, says C. Douglas Taylor, MD, Chief of Hematology/Oncology at Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA).
Unprotected sun exposure resulting in blistering sunburns in childhood greatly heightens the chances of malignant melanoma in adulthood. Melanoma is a potentially lethal form of skin cancer that has become increasingly common in the United States. Sun exposure also causes other forms of skin cancer as well as age spots and wrinkles, even in dark-skinned individuals.
“Both children and adults need to practice sun safety,” said Dr. Taylor. Reduced exposure to direct sunlight from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. is important, as is access to shade, particularly for children. Ultraviolet-blocking sunglasses and protective clothing, including wide-brimmed hats and visors and loose-fitting long-sleeved shirts and pants, also help. “Don’t use tanning beds or sunlamps. The skin color of health is pale, not tan,” he added.
Sunscreen is vital in reducing skin exposure, even on cloudy days, and should be reapplied every two hours while swimming or exercising. Dr. Taylor suggests a brand that has a sun-protection factor of 30 or more, and protects against both UVA and UVB rays. The best include avobenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule. “Check the label for protection against UVA1, UVA2, and UVB,” he advised. “Also, it’s now possible to buy bulk sunscreen in larger pump bottles to have at the pool or the playground.”
Additionally, most sunscreen products have an expiration date, often in three years. “Check the markings on the bottom of your bottle from last year to make sure that it is still good.”
Though much research supports the benefits of vitamin D, which is generated by sunlight, there is no proof that sunblocks cause low vitamin D. “In the Northeast, it’s hard to get enough vitamin D year-round from our low sun anyhow,” explained Dr. Taylor. “Ask your doctor about a vitamin D supplement.”
Finally, Dr. Taylor recommends keeping an eye on your moles, namely those that are lopsided with irregular edges and uneven color, especially if they are growing, changing shape or color, or bleeding and causing sores.