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Shielding yourself from the sun: your guide to effective sun protection

Shielding yourself from the sun: your guide to effective sun protection

A little dose of daily sunshine helps boost your mood and wake up your mind. However, with the sun's rays come the risk of ultraviolet (UV) damage, which can have serious implications for your skin and eye health. Do you know how to choose (and use) the most effective sun protection?

Let’s explore ways to enjoy the sunshine without compromising your health. We also recommend discussing sun protection and your personal health risks from sun exposure with your primary care provider. If you don’t have one, find a doctor or nurse practitioner who is taking new patients.

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Love the sun, hate the damage

There's nothing quite like feeling the sun on your face and soaking up its warmth. However, UV radiation from prolonged sun exposure can lead to skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and the more dangerous melanoma. These conditions often stem from cumulative sun exposure. Similarly, UV rays can harm your eyes, potentially leading to cataracts and other vision impairments. Remember, it is important to enjoy the benefits of connecting to nature, while still reducing the impact of UV rays.

Choosing safe and effective sun protection

To guard against UV rays effectively

  • Sunscreen: Opt for broad-spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of 30 or higher. Apply sunscreen liberally 30 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours, or more often if swimming or sweating. Look for labels that indicate broad-spectrum protection, which covers both UVA and UVB rays, a high SPF number for better protection and water resistance for swimming or sweating. Check the expiration date to ensure effectiveness.

  • Clothing: Wear tightly woven, long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Many fabrics now come with a UV protection factor (UPF) rating, which indicates exactly how much UV protection the clothing provides.

  • Sunglasses: Choose sunglasses that block out 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB radiation to ensure your eyes are protected.

Visit the BJC HealthCare newsroom for other ways to stay safe and healthy all summer.

Managing sunburn

Sometimes, despite your best efforts to protect yourself, you may end up getting too much sun. If that happens, here's what to do to treat a sunburn.

Mild sunburn:

Mild sunburn typically appears as slight redness and warmth on the affected skin. The skin may be tender to the touch but does not usually blister or peel immediately.

  • Cool the skin: Apply cool compresses or take a cool bath.

  • Moisturize: Use a moisturizer that contains aloe vera or soy to soothe the skin.

  • Stay hydrated: Drink extra water to help your skin heal.

  • Protect your skin: Cover sunburned areas to prevent further UV exposure.

Moderate sunburn:

Moderate sunburn results in more intense redness, swelling and pain. The skin may feel hot to the touch, and small blisters may begin to form, indicating deeper skin damage.

  • Over-the-counter remedies: Apply hydrocortisone cream to reduce inflammation and take ibuprofen to relieve pain.

  • Care for blisters: If blisters form, do not pop them. Loosely cover them with a gauze bandage.

We recommend contacting your primary care provider (PCP) if you have these symptoms as he or she can provide guidance and resources for recovery. Our online scheduling makes finding a provider to meet your needs and preferences easy.

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Maintaining a relationship with your PCP is critical, but if you need medical attention outside of regular business hours or same-day care, we are here to help.

Severe sunburn:

Severe sunburn is characterized by extensive redness, large blisters, severe pain and even systemic symptoms like fever and chills. This level of sunburn can lead to dehydration and requires medical attention.

  • Seek medical attention: Consult a health care professional if you experience severe sunburn symptoms such as intense pain, fever or signs of heat exhaustion. Some of the symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

    • Heavy sweating

    • Pale, cool skin

    • Muscle cramps

    • Fatigue

    • Weak, rapid pulse

    • Nausea or vomiting

    • Headache

  • Avoid the sun: Keep the sunburned areas completely out of the sun to prevent further damage.

These steps can help manage your sunburn and alleviate discomfort. Remember, severe sunburn might require emergency care, so don't hesitate to seek medical treatment.

Recognizing signs of sun damage

Repeated or prolonged sun exposure without adequate sun protection can result in permanent skin damage. While short-term injuries such as sunburns eventually heal, they can leave behind permanent damage that is cumulative. The more sunburns you get, the more sun damage accumulates over time.

Regular skin examinations are key to spotting early signs of sun damage, such as suspicious moles. Look for new growths or changes to existing moles using the ABCDE guide:

  • Asymmetry: An asymmetrical mole is when one half of the mole does not match the other.

  • Border: The edges of the mole are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred.

  • Color: The mole color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, sometimes with patches of pink, red, white or blue.

  • Diameter: Mole diameter is larger than 6 mm across (about ¼ inch – the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.

  • Evolution: The mole changes in size, shape or color.

Embrace the sun safely by understanding the risks and employing effective sun protection strategies. Stay vigilant with skin checks and don't hesitate to consult your primary care provider for personalized advice or a referral to a skin specialist.

A BJC primary care provider serves as your health partner, providing preventive health care and treatment for illnesses, injuries and chronic conditions. If you do not have one, find a primary care provider accepting new patients. Learn more.

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