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Protect yourself from everything from sunburn to developing skin cancer

Summer Safety in the Sun
Posted at 1:57 PM, Jul 18, 2023

As the summer season is in full swing, it’s important to take precautions when we’re out in the sun, and protect ourselves from everything from the risk of sunburn to developing skin cancer.

Most skin cancers develop as a result of too much exposure to ultraviolet, or UV, rays that come mostly from the sun, but also other intense light sources—including tanning beds.

Health experts say that UV rays from the sun are powerful enough to reach your skin even on cloudy days, and tend to be the most intense and potentially damaging between the hours of 10am and 4pm.

Most local weather forecasts, especially during the summer months, will include a UV ray strength forecast as part of their regular coverage. While all levels of UV ray exposure can be potentially damaging, experts suggest that if the local UV index is at a 3 or higher (on a scale of 10), you should take steps to protect yourself.

Precautions to take

First and foremost, staying in the shade as much as possible is ideal, but for many of us, especially with the fun summer weather, that’s not always practical. But there are other precautions you can take to protect your skin while you enjoy the summer weather.

· Limit your exposure: Again, the best way to protect yourself from harmful UV rays is to limit your exposure. Even on cloudy days, the strength of the sun’s rays can reach your skin

· Sunscreen: If you’re going to be exposed to direct sunlight for any length of time, health experts recommend sunscreen. Sunscreen protection levels are categorized using a sun protection factor, or SPF, number, that rates how well a sunscreen protects your skin, with higher numbers indicating more protection. Though lower numbers are available, doctors recommend you use SPF 15 at a minimum. Note, too: older adults should be particularly careful, as studies show that fewer than half of older adults regularly protect their skin from the sun. And it is not recommended that you use sunscreen on children 6 months or younger – Focus more on avoiding sun exposure and protective clothing for the little ones.

· Protective clothing: Wearing protective clothing when you’re in the sun can help, including those made from tightly woven fabrics, along with hats and sunglasses.

Your medication and the sun

Just as it affects your skin, the sun has the ability to affect certain medications, too. Direct heat and light have the potential to damage your medication and make it less effective, so doctors recommend storing medicine in a cool, dry location.

Some medications also contain an ingredient that causes what’s known as “photosensitivity,” a chemically induced change in your skin that can make you more sensitive to sunlight and which can cause sunburn-like symptoms. There are two types of photosensitivity:

· Photoallergy is an allergic skin reaction, and may not occur until several days following exposure

· Phototoxicity is a skin irritation that can occur within a few hours of sun exposure

If you regularly take medications and are concerned about the effects of possible sun exposure, have a conversation with your doctor. Some of the most common medications susceptible to causing photosensitivity include:

· Antibiotics
· Antihistamines
· Diuretics
· Drugs for lowering your cholesterol
· Oral contraceptives
· Non-steroid anti-inflammatories

It’s important to note that not everyone who uses these medications will experience a reaction; and at the same time, just because you experience a reaction once, that doesn’t mean it will happen again.

Your best bet if you take medication regularly and are going to be exposed to the sun? Talk to your doctor, to find out if you should be mindful of photosensitivity concerns, or damage to your medication.

For more information please visit: optum.com/utah.