By Maria YagerJuly 12, 2018
Swimsuits, shorts, and tank tops are popular attire in the summer months but these clothing items can also lead to overexposing skin to the damaging rays of the sun.
Blanchfield Army Community Hospital dermatologist Maj. Michael Digby, Chief of Dermatology, shared some best practices to help reduce the risk of skin cancer, which is the most common form of cancer in the United States, affecting more than 3 million people in the U. S. annually.
First, Digby recommends avoiding midday sun whenever possible. The sun's harmful rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when they are directly overhead so when possible it is better to plan outdoor activities in the morning or afternoon.
When you have to be outdoors Digby said a broad brim hat that also covers the ears plus other clothing like a long sleeve top to cover skin can provide protection from the sun's harmful rays. Additionally, prior to heading out, Digby said to apply a broad spectrum sunscreen.
"That means it's going to cover UVA (Ultraviolet A) and UVB (Ultraviolet B) rays. Both of those spectrums of UV radiation have been known to cause not only skin cancer but also just photo damage, which causes wrinkles as well, and photo aging over time," said Digby.
UVA rays penetrate into the skin's deeper, thickest layer, the dermis, and can cause premature aging. UVB rays burn the top, outside layers of skin and are the main cause for skin reddening and sunburn. Using a broad spectrum sunscreen properly can help protect a sunburn today and help prevent premature wrinkles in the future.
Digby said there are many good sunscreen brands to choose from and rather than focus on a particular brand he said to focus on choosing a sunscreen that is labeled "broad spectrum" and has a sun protection factor, or SPF, of at least 30 for most normal outdoor activities.
"If you put it on several minutes before you go out in the sun, you've accomplished the mission there, but you really do need to reapply it frequently. If you're sweating or actually swimming, you want to reapply it every 20 minutes. Otherwise, generally reapply every two hours if you're going to be out in the sun that long," Digby said. He also said to remember to apply sunscreen to the tops and back of the ears, back of the hands and nose which are some of the most frequent places he has to cut skin cancer from.
Sunscreen is typically not recommended for infants under six months old, according to the Food and Drug Administration, because their skin is less mature than adults and the chemicals contained in sunscreen may cause more harm than protection. Still protecting their skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays in necessary.
"If they're going to be out in the sun, covering the baby and avoiding that sun is much better than using sun screen at early ages," said Digby. Parents can keep babies protected from the sun by keeping them covered up in lightweight clothes, sun hats and shade. When there is no natural shade, parents can create their own with a sun umbrella or canopy from a stroller.
Finally, Digby said these tips are a general in nature. For specific concerns, including individuals with a history of skin cancer or other skin conditions or persons using medications that warn of sun exposure, speak with a primary care manager who may offer a more individualized skin protection plan.
Blanchfield's Dermatology Clinic has one dermatologist on staff and sees active duty patients who have been referred by their primary care manager for a variety of skin rashes, benign and malignant growths, moles, skin checks, pigmentary abnormalities, cutaneous infections or infestations, and disorders of the hair and nails. Family members and retirees may be seen on a space available basis or will receive a referral from Referral Management Office for care off post.