ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JULIE ANDERSON
Summer means fun in the sun for a lot of people. But too much sun can cause sunburns and other possible problems, including skin cancer.
Local health experts urge people to take care of their skin.
“People just don’t realize the importance of it,” said Teresa Regier, a registered nurse practitioner at Hillsboro Family Practice Clinic. “There are a lot of younger people with skin cancer lesions now because of all of the laying out they did in the sun.”
She feels the cancer threat is partly due to the lessening of the ozone layer that protects the earth from some of the sun’s most harmful rays.
“I think it’s a lot worse than it used to be,” Regier said.
Although awareness is increasing, people still put themselves at risk of getting skin cancer if they don’t use sun block and other precautions.
“I think it’s slowly starting to change, although there still are people who go out and lay out in the sun,” Regier said. “I think there’s more awareness about skin cancer than there used to be.”
“It used to be fashionable to have a tan, but it is unhealthy,” said Michael Reeh, a local physician.
Reeh advises people to avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day, and to wear sunscreen and sunglasses.
Both medical experts said people need to think more about their long-term health.
“I think people just think of the here and now, and they want to look tanned,” Regier said. “They don’t realize that someday they may regret that.”
She encourages everyone to wear sunscreen because it is better to be protected than to be sorry later.
Experts recommend broad-spectrum sunscreens, which protect against UVA and UVB radiation, with SPFs of at least 15.
The higher the SPF, the longer a person can remain in the sun before burning. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before exposure to allow penetration.
People should avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Even when it is cloudy, only up to 20 percent of UV radiation is blocked. The reflection of water, sand and snow intensify the sun’s rays.
Light-skinned people need to be extra careful because they will burn more easily.
“I think younger children are at greater risk,” Regier said. “If you get sunburned when you’re small, I think that does have an impact.”
She said to make sure children have sunscreen on them if they are outside for any length of time and to reapply it when necessary.
Reeh said children can get more complications from a sunburn because they have a smaller surface area for their skin.
Several others should be especially careful: people with freckles, those who sunburn easily, who spend a lot of time outdoors, were previously treated for skin cancer, have a family history of skin cancer, have certain diseases, or take certain medications.
To help protect themselves when out in the sun, people can wear lightweight, loosing-fitting long-sleeved shirts and pants or long skirts. Wet clothes do not have the same effect because the sun’s rays can pass through them more easily.
If a sunburn occurs, people should not apply petroleum jelly, ointment or butter. Instead, wash the burned skin with harsh soap or use over-the-counter creams and sprays containing benzocaine.
Recommended first aid includes cool baths or compresses for 10 to 15 minutes several times a day, lotion, a steroid cream prescribed by a physician and over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), for example.
Sunburns carry significant consequences. One blistering sunburn doubles the likelihood of developing malignant melanoma, and chronic sun exposure causes premature wrinkling and aging of the skin. Age spots, skin cancer and cataracts also are related to sun exposure.
To find early indicators of skin cancer, people should look for moles or lesions changing in color or size or that are non-symmetrical, Regier says.
People also should be aware of any sores that don’t heal, or moles that have irregular borders, non-uniform colors or are more than .6 centimeters in diameter, according to Reeh.
He recommends people get checked for skin cancer as part of their yearly physical.
“If you don’t get a lot of skin damage, you’re not going to wrinkle so soon, you’re not going to look like an old lady before your time,” Regier said.
People should go to the doctor if they experience fever, blisters covering a large area or a lot of pain.
A popular alternative to laying out in the sun are tanning beds, but they are not any safer, say the medical experts.
“I think a lot of people think that (they are safer), but it is not true,” Regier said.
She said tanning beds can be just as damaging. According to Regier, the only safe tan is one achieved from using the lotions that make your skin look tanned.