Sunscreen…Don’t Leave Home Without It
By Kelly Evans-Hullinger, M.D.
It’s the dead of winter, and who among us isn’t craving the feeling of warm sunshine on our skin? I, for one, am dreaming of summer days spent outdoors, not a care in the world, basking in that delicious ultraviolet light. But alas, I must be my own physician buzzkill (maybe in this case, sun-kill), and remind myself that there is more to those rays than the pure delight I am romanticizing.
The truth is, there is technically no “safe” amount of UV exposure when it comes to our skin and the risk of skin cancer. One in five of us will have a skin cancer diagnosed in our lifetimes, and while many types of skin cancer are not life-threatening, some are. Melanoma, in particular, is a skin cancer with great potential to metastasize and ultimately take lives. Like other skin cancers, ultraviolet exposure is a major risk factor for melanoma.
I can recall one summer day when I was 13, I fell asleep on a July day watching a cousin’s baseball game. My fair-skinned back was exposed to the sun, unprotected, leaving me horrendously sunburned in the days that followed. I will never forget those next few days, one of which I spent carrying my golf bag on a hot, humid tournament day, my back covered in blisters. The thought of it now is enough to make me cringe.
And let’s not forget it doesn’t have to be a hot summer day to incur skin damage. Many of us have been surprised with a sunburn sustained while skiing or ice fishing – sun is sun, whether the temperature is hot or cold – and even on a cloudy day those UV rays make it down to Earth. And don’t get me (or your friendly dermatologist) started on the risks posed by tanning beds.
Protecting one’s skin from the sun is something we can all do to stay healthier. There are a variety of ways to do this: Avoiding sun entirely or staying in the shade, wearing protective clothing like long sleeves, pants, and a wide brimmed hat, physical sunscreen like zinc oxide, or chemical sunscreen – the experts recommend at least SPF 30 applied every 2 hours.
I still love summer. I love being outside for hours, sweating in the sun. But these days you’ll find me with SPF 50 applied before I leave the house and carried along at all times for reapplication.
Kelly Evans-Hullinger, M.D. is a contributing Prairie Doc® columnist who has practiced internal medicine for the past four years in Brookings, S.D. For free and easy access to the entire Prairie Doc® library, visit www.prairiedoc.org and follow Prairie Doc® on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show streaming on Facebook and broadcast on SDPTV most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.