Patient Resources

Sun and Your Skin



The Sun and Your Skin
The sun is good for many things. It makes flowers grow, warms the earth, and provides light. The sun also can harm your skin because it emits ultraviolet radiation. The sun's ultraviolet A (UVA) rays are called the "aging" rays. UVA can cause wrinkles, age spots, and tans. The ultraviolet B (UVB) rays are known as the "burning" rays because UVB rays cause sunburn. Both types of UV rays reach the earth every day. Even on a cloudy day, UV rays can damage our skin.

What happens when I don't protect my skin from the sun?
Without protection from the sun's harmful UV rays, the following can occur:

Skin Cancer
Most skin cancers develop on areas of the skin that get years of sun exposure, like the face, neck, ears, forearms, hands, and trunk. Basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas are the most common, but melanomas are the deadliest.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) looks like a flesh-colored, pearl-like bump, or pinkish patch of skin. BCC frequently develops in people who have light skin, but it can occur in people with dark skin. With early treatment, this type of cancer can be cured. Left untreated, BCC can cause bleeding and severe damage, which can be disfiguring.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) can look like a red scaly patch, raised, firm bump, or a sore that heals and re-opens. People who have light skin are most likely to develop SCC, but it can develop in dark-skinned people, especially those who have scarring. With early detection and proper treatment, SCC also has a high cure rate. Left untreated, SCC can also be disfiguring. In rare cases, untreated SCC can spread to other areas of the body and can be deadly.

Melanoma may develop in a mole or it can appear on the skin as a new, dark spot. Sometimes melanoma contains shades of red, blue, or white. When found early, melanoma often can be cured. Left untreated, melanoma can spread to other areas of the body and be deadly. One person dies of melanoma every hour.

Sunburn
Too many sunburns or sunburns that blister increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Avoiding sunburn is important. If you do get sunburn, most people get relief from cool, wet compresses or baths and soothing lotions. When a fever, chills, upset stomach, or confusion develops, you may need immediate medical attention.

Tanning
Tanning is often mistaken as a sign of good health. What a tan actually means is that the skin has been injured. A tan develops when the skin tries to protect itself from harmful UV rays.

Indoor tanning is not a safe option to sun exposure. Indoor tanning equipment, including tanning beds and sun lamps, give off harmful UV radiation. This radiation can be stronger that that given off by the sun. Whether the radiation comes from indoor tanning or the sun, it increases a person's risk of developing skin cancer, including melanoma. There is no such thing as a "safe" tan.

Aging
Exposure to UV rays makes skin tough and leathery. It makes a person's skin age more quickly than normal. Skin exposed to the sun can develop large freckles, age spots, wrinkles, and scaly growths known as actinic keratoses (AKs). AKs are considered an early stage in the development of skin cancer.

Allergic Reactions and Other Conditions
For some people, sun exposure causes an allergic reaction. Common signs of a sun allergy are bumps, hives, blisters, and red blotches on the skin.

People taking certain medications can develop a rash after being out in the sun. Medications that interact with UV light and can cause this reaction include birth control pills, antibiotics, and medications for treating blood pressure, arthritis, and depression.

Sun exposure also can worsen some diseases. People who have lupus erythematous or cold sores should protect their skin from the sun. If a flare-up occurs, be sure to consult a dermatologist.

How do I protect my skin from the sun?
If you use common sense and take care to Be Sun Smart®, you can safely work and play outdoors without increasing skin cancer risk or premature aging. It's never too late to start protecting your skin.
Here's how to Be Sun Smart®: 

  • Generously apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or more to all exposed skin. "Broad-spectrum" provides protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Re-apply approximately every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, where possible.
  • Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun's rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade.
  • Protect children from sun exposure by playing in the shade, wearing protective clothing, and applying sunscreen.
  • Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand because they reflect and intensify the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn.
  • Get vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that may include vitamin supplements. Don't seek the sun.
  • Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look like you've been in the sun, consider using a sunless self-tanning product, but continue to use sunscreen with it.
  • Check your birthday suit on your birthday. If you notice anything changing, growing, or bleeding on your skin, see a Water’s Edge Dermatology practitioner. Skin cancer is very treatable when caught early.
 
When should I see a dermatologist?

If you notice that a mole differs from another or a spot on your skin changes, itches, or bleeds (even if it is small), immediately make an appointment to see a Water’s Edge Dermatology practitioner. These changes can be signs of skin cancer. With early detection and treatment, skin cancer has a high cure rate.

If you dislike signs of aging that appear on your skin, you also may want to see a Water’s Edge Dermatology practitioner. A Water’s Edge Dermatology practitioner also can tell you about the different options to treat or help reduce the signs of skin aging.

Click here to see the Water's Edge Dermatology line of sunscreens.