By Tammy Nevala, TCHC RN, Ambulatory Care Supervisor
As we reach the pinnacle of summer, days become warmer and the sun becomes brighter. It’s the perfect time to get out and enjoy the Minnesota lake country.
It’s also a great time to make sure you’re practicing proper sun safety in order to prevent skin cancer. Caused by damage to skin cells, this cancer is often preventable and can be cured if caught early enough. But in order to prevent it, you need to know what causes skin cancer in the first place.
Sunlight is the number one culprit. It gives off harmful radiation called ultraviolet (UV) rays, and they come in two types. UV-A are steady all year long and increase aging and the development of wrinkles, while UV-B are more powerful, more common in the summertime and more likely to cause sunburn. The longer you’re in the sun, the more radiation you get.
Tanning beds also play a part in skin cancer growth. Many believe the lights in tanning beds are harmless, but in reality, they give off the same UV rays as the sun to give you a quick tan. Early exposure to tanning beds can significantly increase your risk of getting skin cancer, even if it’s just an occasional use.
Knowing some of the causes of skin cancer will better equip you to prevent it. Here are some practical ways to apply this knowledge:
Say no to tanning beds. Because tanning beds give off such concentrated doses of UV rays in a short amount of time, your chance of skin cancer is augmented. It’s best to avoid them altogether. If you still want to achieve a tanned look, use a sunless tanning lotion instead.
Cover up exposed skin. Use sunglasses, hats, long-sleeved shirts and long pants whenever feasible to protect your skin from direct sunlight. Dark colors and tightly woven fabrics are best.
Take shelter in the shade. Don’t linger in direct sunlight for too long. UV rays can even reach you on cloudy days, so it’s best to stay in shady areas as much as possible. You should also limit time spent around sand, water or snow, as they reflect sunlight and increase UV radiation.
Slather on the sunscreen. The higher the sun protection factor, or SPF, the better. Only broad-spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of at least 15 can help protect you from skin cancer. Broad spectrum simply means it protects against both UV-A and UV-B rays. Use waterproof or sweatproof sunscreen and reapply it often if you’re planning a long day of outdoor activities.
Keep an eye on the kiddos. Since kids tend to spend more time in the sun when playing or exploring, parents should take the proper precautions to protect them from sun exposure and set a positive example by using good habits themselves. Keep babies younger than 6 months out of direct sunlight.
Watch for changes on your skin. You know each mark and bump on your body better than anyone. By routinely checking your skin for anything out of the ordinary, you’re more likely to spot and report a strange mole or growth before it can turn into skin cancer.
About the Author: Tammy Nevala is a registered nurse and the ambulatory care supervisor at Tri-County Health Care. The role of ambulatory care is outpatient medicine, which includes chemotherapy, blood transfusions, IV antibiotics, IV fluids and more.