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Columns

July 9, 2011

Health: Take steps to protect your skin this summer

While it's common to want to soak up as much of the summer sun as possible, it's more important to protect your skin while spending time outside, as skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. By taking precautions and following some simple steps, you can protect yourself and your family from overexposure during these summer months.

How does sun exposure change skin?

Sun exposure can cause pre-cancerous or cancerous skin lesions, benign tumors, wrinkles, freckles, discolored areas of the skin, yellow discoloration of the skin, and dilation of small blood vessels under the skin.

How can I correct sun damaged skin?

While nothing can completely undo sun damage, the skin can sometimes repair itself.

Therefore, it's never too late to begin protecting your skin while in the sun. There are some products however, that may reverse some of the results of sun exposure, such as:

Aspirin: may relieve some inflammation associated with acute sun exposure.

Retin-A: may reverse some of the wrinkling damage associated with sun exposure.

Hydroquinone bleaching creams: may correct some pigmentation irregularities from sun exposure.

It's important to remember that sun avoidance is best for your skin, though sunscreens (properly used) are the next best thing to wearing covering clothing and not going outdoors. And even though a person may never develop a skin cancer from sun exposure, they will almost certainly develop skin wrinkles from sun exposure.

Tips for sun protection:

"¢ Generously apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30 or greater at least 30 minutes before going outside. Sunscreen should provide protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVA rays are responsible for the signs of aging, while UVB rays are what give you a sunburn. Both are responsible for causing most skin cancers. All sunscreens protect against UVB rays, but only recently have sunscreens started including UVA protection. The label should say UVA/UVB or "broad spectrum coverage." Reapply every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after sweating or swimming.

"¢ Do not burn. Sunburns significantly increase one's lifetime risk of developing skin cancer, especially for children. Even one or two bad sunburns during childhood can cause an increased risk of getting melanoma later in life.

"¢ Use cosmetic products and contact lenses that offer UV protection, and wear sunglasses with total UV protection.

"¢ Wear protective clothing, (wide-brimmed hats, long sleeved shirts, and pants), when possible.

"¢ Avoid direct sun exposure or seek shade during peak UV radiation hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

"¢ Check the UV Index online or in your daily newspaper. It provides important information to help you plan your outdoor activities while avoiding sun overexposure. The Index forecasts the strength of the sun's harmful rays. The higher the number, the greater the chance of sun damage.

"¢ Perform skin self-exams regularly to become familiar with existing growths and to notice any changes or new growths. A new or changing mole should be evaluated by a dermatologist, as early detection of melanoma (skin cancer) can save your life.

Dr. John Russin is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Bassett Healthcare Network who sees patients at the Plastic Surgery and Advanced Skin Care Center at Hartwick Seminary Specialty Services. He also sees patients in Hamilton and Cobleskill.

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