Spending time outdoors is always tempting on a sunny day, especially in Southern Nevada where we experience sunshine most of the year. HealthCare Partners Medical Group encourages people of all ages to take precautions when they are enjoying the outdoors for prolonged periods, as ultra-violet (UV) radiation from the sun can raise potential health risks. UV radiation directly causes damage to the DNA in skin cells. When cells can’t repair this damage, DNA can undergo mutations, heightening the risk of skin cancer.
However, spending a limited amount of time in the sun is an important component of staying healthy. Sunshine is a great source of vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium, increase bone density and reduce the risk of fragile bones.
Prolonged exposure to UV radiation is harmful to the skin. In addition to raising the risk of skin cancer, skin damage such as sunburns and tans also accelerate the aging process, causing wrinkles, uneven skin tones and a rough texture much earlier in life.
It is always important to take appropriate precautions before spending time outdoors. Preventing sun damage is a simple matter of applying sunscreen on any skin that isn’t covered by clothing. Health experts recommend using the highest SPF sunscreen available, as most people don’t use enough sunscreen to achieve its full protective effect. People should apply one ounce of sunscreen before any prolonged exposure to the sun, including sitting in the car for a long commute while sunshine streams through the windshield.
It is important to reapply sunscreen approximately every two hours. Sweating and swimming causes sunscreen to wear off faster, so it is beneficial to reapply sunscreen every hour in those conditions.
Indoor tanning can be more dangerous than sunbathing outdoors. Tanning beds offer the option of increasing the lamps’ intensity, escalating the amount of UV radiation an individual receives. In addition, people can utilize indoor tanning year-round, resulting in regular exposure to UV rays. Even in constantly sunny regions like Southern Nevada, most people will take a break from outdoor tanning during chilly winter temperatures and intense summer heat, reducing their exposure to the sun’s harmful rays.
For those who have already dedicated time to basking on beaches or inside tanning beds, there are simple ways to monitor for signs of skin cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends everyone practice monthly head-to-toe self-examinations to identify any new or changing lesions that might be cancerous or precancerous. Basic warning signs of skin cancer include a skin growth that increases in size, and that might appear pearly, black, brown or multicolored. People should also be on the lookout for a mole, birthmark, beauty mark or brown spot that alters in any way, including changing color, increasing in size or thickness, changing texture, becoming irregular in outline, growing larger than 6 millimeters or appearing after age 21.
Other signs can include a spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, scab and bleed, or an open sore that doesn’t heal within three weeks. When an individual recognizes these symptoms, it is important to see a physician, preferably a dermatologist. HealthCare Partners’ physicians are always happy to answer any questions about precautions for skin health.