By Kathy Hubbard
This week’s fabulous summer weather reminded me that it’s time for you to read my annual lecture on preventing sunburn.
Protecting your skin will not only prevent the discomfort of a burn, but also will guard against eye damage, dry wrinkled skin, liver spots, actinic keratoses and shield you from debilitating or life-threatening cancers.
Read the warning labels on your prescription drugs. Often medications can heighten sensitivity to sun exposure and cause dreadful side effects.
People with fair skin are more susceptible to ultraviolet exposure than those with darker skins, but everyone is at risk. The sun’s energy can penetrate any skin type and damage the DNA of the skin cells. Also remember that 90 percent of UV rays can pass through clouds. Heed that warning.
We used to think a tan looked healthy. But the truth is the damage that can occur cannot be reversed. Despite the massive amounts of anti-aging serums on the market today, they can’t change the fact that up to 90 percent of the visible changes commonly attributed to aging are caused by the sun. Those are what we call wrinkles, you know.
The statistics about carcinomas is frightening. According to The Mayo Clinic, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. and each year there are more new cases than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostrate, lung and colon. Over the past 30-plus years, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined.
But, of course, we don’t want to stay out of the sun, so we’ll just apply some sunscreen. Right? Sure. But choose one carefully and use it properly. There is some controversy about ingredients. Talk to your pharmacist before spending your money on over-the-counter lotions that may be ineffectual or dangerous.
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends using an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends 30 or more.
All sunscreens have an expiration date. Using out-of-date lotion is no better than using none at all; those active ingredients become inactive over time.
Apply at least one ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going out into the sun and replenish every two hours or more if you’re perspiring or swimming. Be sure to include your ears, the tops of your feet (bottoms if they’re exposed), your nose and the top of your head particularly if there isn’t any hair there. Have someone help you with the spots that you can’t reach.
What else can you do? Wear a broad-brimmed hat. Wear sunglasses that block 99 or 100 percent of UV rays. Try to stay in the shade whenever possible. Avoid exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the suns rays are the strongest. Wear tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs.
And in the end, when you are sunburned, be careful about infections. Take ibuprofen or aspirin for the discomfort. (Do not administer aspirin to children under the age of two or any child recovering from chickenpox or the flu.) Apply a cold wet towel to the affected area or take a cool bath or shower. Carefully smooth on aloe vera lotion or hydrocortisone cream to decrease pain and speed healing.
Do not break blisters if they occur. If they break on their own apply an antibacterial cream. If there’s any sign of infection contact your health professional. Avoid topical “-caine” products, such as benzocaine as it can irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction.
Drink plenty of liquids like water or sports drinks. Prevent dehydration. Although a beer may sound good, alcohol will not replenish vital fluids.
When you start to peel, treat the skin gently. Although it doesn’t look appealing, it’s just your body getting rid of the damaged skin. Apply moisturizing creams liberally and continuously. And most importantly, try to remember how uncomfortable you are so you won’t do it again.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.