The most important thing you can do to protect your skin from the sun and prevent skin cancer (other than avoiding the sun and wearing protective clothing) is to wear sunscreen. It takes about 15 minutes for your skin to fully absorb the sunscreen in order to protect you.
Apply sunscreen on your face, neck and ears, as well as any other areas that are exposed to sun. For example, if you have a T-shirt on, you should apply it on your arms; if you have flip-flops on, apply it to the tops of your feet. Men who have hair loss should also apply it to the top of their head. Since your lips are always exposed, use a lip balm that contains an SPF. To remain protected when outdoors, reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, or immediately after swimming or sweating.
The sun is most intense between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. So if you’re going to be outside, it’s best to seek shade. Or you can plan outdoor activities before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. If you’re going to be at the pool or beach, use an umbrella. Wear protective clothing, such as a lightweight long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses when possible.
People who get sunburned usually didn’t use enough sunscreen, didn’t reapply it after being in the sun or used an expired product. Your skin is exposed to the sun’s harmful UV rays every time you go outside, even on cloudy days and in the winter. So, whether you are taking a walk in your neighborhood or on vacation, remember to use sunscreen.
It’s recommended that everyone use sunscreen that offers the following:
• Broad-spectrum protection (protects against UVA and UVB rays)
• SPF 30 or higher
• Water resistance
• A zinc base, which causes less sensitivity and acts as a physical barrier to the sun.
It’s important to begin treating a sunburn as soon as possible. You should treat a sunburn by taking the following steps:
• Cover the exposed area to stop further UV exposure.
• Hydrate your skin with aloe and a heavy lotion.
• Take aspirin or ibuprofen to help reduce swelling, redness and discomfort.
• Drink extra water. A sunburn draws fluid to the skin surface and away from the rest of the body. Drinking extra water prevents dehydration.
Although it may seem like a temporary condition, sunburn – a result of skin receiving too much exposure from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays – can cause long-lasting damage to the skin. This damage increases a person’s risk for getting skin cancer, making it critical to protect the skin from sun.
Severe sunburns may benefit from medical attention. Cone Health has a network of licensed dermatologists and other related health care providers dedicated to educating the community about skin care, preventing skin damage and skin cancer, and providing exceptional treatment for skin-related conditions.
Kathryn Bradshaw, FNP-C, is a certified family nurse practitioner at Alamance Skin Center and a member of Cone Health Medical Group. She received her Bachelor of Science in nursing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her Master of Science in nursing from Western Carolina University.