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Sunshine: Should I be afraid of the sun?

By Jessica Kelner, D.O. - July 17, 2018

Skin cancer is a real threat. Only 3 out of 10 adults practice sun protection methods on a routine basis.  Let’s change that! The summer months put you at more risk for skin damage with longer hours of daylight, warmer temperatures, and more people wanting to be outside to enjoy the sunshine and weather.

Did you know that you’re at higher risk for skin cancer and sun damage from the sun if you live over 40 deg latitude (this is Denver!). The sun’s rays don’t just burn your skin, they cause permanent changes to skin elasticity and DNA that can lead to skin cancer, skin discoloration and wrinkled skin. To avoid this, make sure to apply a sunscreen that protects against BOTH UVA and UVB of at least 50 SPF. Reapply your sunscreen often, especially if you are in the water. Make sure the sunscreen you’re using is water resistant if you plan on being in the water or sweating at all.
During the summer months, it is best practice to apply sunscreen daily to your entire body (head to toe). You can actually get sun damage through your clothes! If you can, avoid being outside in the sun from 10am to 3pm. Those are peak sun hours when the UV radiation is the highest. The sun’s UV radiation can have effects on your body that you can’t see on your skin directly. This may leave you feeling run down and fatigued, so protect yourself!

Other methods of sun protection: You can use sun protective clothing (clothes with built in SPF protection) and sunbrellas if being in the sun is inevitable to help prevent sun exposure. To prevent the pain from sunburn and permanent skin damage such as aging spots, wrinkles, and skin cancer, apply sunscreen daily.

What about Vitamin D? Yes, it is true that the sun helps your body make vitamin D. Our protective ozone in the atmosphere continues to be damaged which allows more harmful rays from the sun to reach us.  While sunscreen protects our skin from the harmful effects from the sun, it also limits the vitamin D that our body is able to make.  So, there is a trade off between making vitamin D and exposing the body to potential skin cancer.  Vitamin D can easily be taken as a daily vitamin. It is sold over the counter at almost every pharmacy.  This seems like a better solution than taking the risks of sun exposure and ending up with skin cancer.  

Lastly, don’t forget to stay hydrated! With daily temperatures over 90, the dry heat causes our body to sweat and evaporate the sweat sometimes instantly. Being in this type of heat and sun inevitably leads the body to lose water and electrolytes. I recommend all of my patients carry around a 1L bottle of water with them during the day and try to refill it 3 times a day.

Enjoy beautiful Denver this summer!