As we start spending more time outside, it is important to understand how the sun’s rays can affect you in both a positive and negative manner. Taking a few steps to protect your skin, the sun will be seen as a friend, not a foe.
ON THE POSITIVE SIDE
Sunlight triggers the release of serotonin which is a hormone associated with boosting a person’s mood and helping them feel calm and focused. When serotonin levels are low there is a greater risk of developing a form of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Builds Strong Bones
Exposure to the sun’s rays causes a person’s skin to create vitamin D which plays a big role in bone health. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to rickets in children and bone-wasting diseases like osteoporosis and osteomalacia.
Prevents Some Cancers
Although excess sunlight can contribute to skin cancers, a moderate amount of sunlight has cancer preventive benefits. In studies it has been shown that residents living where there is more sunlight are less likely to develop Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and colon, ovarian, pancreatic and prostate cancers.
Heals Skin Conditions
According to the World Health Organization, for some, sun exposure can treat several skin conditions. Doctors have recommended UV radiation exposure to treat psoriasis, eczema, jaundice and acne.
ON THE NEGATIVE SIDE
While getting the right amount of sun can benefit your health, too much sun can lead to skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. Each year in the U.S. over 5.4 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are treated in more than 3.3 million people. It is also the easiest to cure, if diagnosed and treated early. When allowed to progress, however, skin cancer can result in disfigurement and even death.
Watch for Early Warning Signs
Look especially for change of any kind to the shape, color or texture of moles or skin lesions. Do not ignore a suspicious spot simply because it does not hurt. Skin cancers may be painless, but dangerous all the same. If you notice one or more of the warning signs, see a doctor right away, preferably one who specializes in diseases of the skin.
Early Warning Signs
- A skin growth that increases in size and appears pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black, or multicolored
- A mole, birthmark, beauty mark, or any brown spot that:
- changes color
- increases in size or thickness
- changes in texture
- is irregular in outline
- is bigger than 6mm or 1/4″, the size of a pencil eraser
- appears after age 21
- A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, erode, or bleed
- An open sore that does not heal within three weeks
Preventing Skin Cancer
Using sunscreen with a SPF 15 or higher anytime you are outside is the first step in preventing skin cancer. But according to the Skin Cancer Foundation sunscreen alone is not enough. Follow these other skin cancer prevention tips.
- Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM
- Do not burn
- Avoid tanning and UV tanning beds
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses
- Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
- Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
- See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that you do a head-to-toe self-examination of your skin every month. Skin cancers are almost always curable when found and removed early. If you spot anything suspicious, see a doctor.