Your Skin’s Showing: Risks of Sun Exposure

A young couple is wearing sunglasses at an outdoor festival.You don’t have to spend hours on a beach towel to be exposed to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. And you should be aware of the risks of too much exposure and take steps to protect yourself. The more time you spend in the sun, the more you let too many UV rays penetrate the inner layers of your skin, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, which adds that the resulting sunburn can lead to the death of skin cells, damage or skin cancer.

The organization says these are some of the signs of sunburn:

  • Hot skin, and sometimes chills or goose bumps
  • Redness, which can happen immediately or over time
  • Dehydration
  • Pain
  • Blisters
  • Tight or itchy skin
  • Peeling, which is how your body sheds dead skin cells

The National Cancer Institute reminds us that between 10am and 4pm, the sun’s rays are at their strongest, and these rays are reflected by water, sand and pavement. If you regularly allow yourself to “bake” in the sun, the American Academy of Family Physicians warns that this long-term exposure can lead to:

  • Changes in your skin, such as moles and freckles, which could develop into cancer over time
  • A lowered immune system, as the sun can affect your white blood cells
  • Injuries to your eyes: UV rays can damage your eye tissues
  • Skin cancer, including non-melanoma and melanoma, which is more severe and can spread to other body parts
  • Early aging, which includes tight, leathery or wrinkled skin, and dark spots

The family physicians group emphasizes that everyone – regardless of age or your skin’s color – is at risk from too much sun exposure. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that you should use sunscreen (SPF 30 or greater), wear protective clothing, avoid being outside when the sun’s rays are strongest, take frequent breaks to hydrate and go inside periodically if you have to be outside. There are some medications, including antibiotics, which can make your skin more sensitive to the UV rays of the sun, according to the FDA.

Speak with your pediatrician before taking newborns or young children out in the sun.

The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 3.5 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year, making it the most common type of cancer. The good news is that it is possible to find this type of cancer early. Be aware of new growths, spots or bumps on your skin. If you see anything that changes in size, shape or color, see a medical professional. 

For a physician referral to a dermatologist, call 1-800-BayCare (1-800-229-2273) or find a doctor near you.