“Baby, it’s WARM outside!”

Girl puts sunscreen on her faceYes, it’s October, but we seem to be in the middle of a heat wave. Sunshine and 70s? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, but it does serve as a good reminder that we need to be careful about sun exposure ALL YEAR. Don’t save the SPF just for the summer months.

UV Exposure Categories

  • The cause of most skin cancer is damage to the DNA of skin cells from ultra-violet (UV) radiation exposure from sunlight.
  • When the DNA inside the living layer of skin is exposed to sunlight, the UV radiation causes the cells to produce a dark brown pigment called melanin as a way to help protect from UV damage.
  • When most of us see melanin in the skin we think, “Oh hey, lookin’ good!” but it may be a sign of a developing problem.

Getting a sunburn means that enough damage has occurred that deep skin cells are dying. Over time, the UV damage causes changes in the DNA that turn healthy cells into cancer cells. The more the UV exposure (more times someone is tanned or burned,) the higher the risk for skin cancer.  Unfortunately, the damage doesn’t reset every year, but it builds up over our entire lifetime.

So what can you do?

Sunscreens can help to block some of the UV rays from the sun, but no sunscreen can block all radiation. Further, especially when you’re in the hot sun swimming or sweating, any sunscreen must be reapplied liberally every 40 minutes to maintain the level of protection listed on the label. Additionally, clothing offers sun protection. The darker and denser the fabric, the more UV rays are blocked.

Tanning beds tan skin by causing UV damage to living skin cells and increase the risk for skin cancer. They are very unsafe and should be avoided. Consider self-tanning products. The tan color from them is not due to damage to the melanin, so these products are safe to use and do not cause skin cancer or damage the skin. However, unless they contain a sun block or “SPF,” the tan they produce does not protect skin from UV radiation that causes a sunburn or even skin cancer.

So there you have it. It may seem like an odd time to get a sunscreen refresher, but as we approach the winter months, when the sun can reflect off the S-N-O-W, it is especially important to protect any exposed skin.

Enjoy these last few warm days of 2011!

Rebecca Reim, MD

About Rebecca Reim, MD

Family Medicine

Education
University of Wisconsin

Residency
University of Wisconsin Family Medicine Residency Program, Madison

Board Certification
American Board of Family Practice
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