GHS Cares: How to Prevent Sun Damage
Skin cancer isn’t the only type of skin damage. There are many signs of damaged skin, including wrinkles, age spots or discoloration, typical and atypical moles, and dry scaly patches. Everyone will develop skin damage, and one in five adults will get skin cancer. Ultraviolet (UV) rays are the number one cause of DNA damage of skin cells. Sun rays have many different types of light, including UV, which is the type that causes the most DNA damage. In North Carolina, UV rays are strongest in the late spring and early summer. So now is the time to think about protecting your skin. Last week, we discussed skin cancers and recognizing changing skin lesions which may need skin biopsy. Now let’s discuss preventative measures in an effort to take good care of your skin while enjoying the spring and summer months.
Tip #1 Avoid tanning beds.
There is clear evidence that use of tanning devices is directly linked to higher chance of getting skin cancer. Use of any tanning bed increases the risk of Squamous Cell cancer by 2.5 times and Basal Cell cancer by 1.5 times! Tanning beds are even riskier for younger people. Getting a tan does not decrease the chance of future damage from tanning -- in fact it increases overall damage. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) caution against use of tanning lamps in school-aged children. If you want to avoid skin cancer and keep skin smooth and soft, we advise against the use of tanning beds for everyone.
Tip #2 Protect against the sun.
Although this may seem basic, it is crucial to reiterate the need for sun protection. It is best to avoid direct sun exposure between the hours of 10 am-2 pm. Long-sleeved clothing and wide-brimmed hats are two excellent measures to protect your skin. If skin must be exposed, apply sunscreen, at least SPF 15 (we prefer SPF 30+), and make sure to reapply sunscreen every 1-2 hours. If you do get a sunburn, or even notice redness after sun exposure, unfortunately skin damage has already been done and cannot be reversed. You can apply calamine, aloe gel and cool compresses to help with discomfort, but it is especially important to avoid additional sun damage and keep your skin and body hydrated to promote healing. It may also help to use gentle cleansers and apply skin lotions or natural oils twice a day. Drinking 6-8 glasses of water will help skin stay hydrated, and avoiding toxins (like smoke), getting good rest and eating a healthy diet (with protein like beans, nuts, fish, meat, and fresh fruits & vegetables) may help your skin heal, as well.
Tip #3 Consider a skin exam by your doctor.
If you notice any unusual changes on your skin that concern you - first of all, good for you for checking your skin carefully! We recommend having your primary care provider take a look if you are concerned or have questions. You do not need to see a skin specialist or dermatologist immediately - most primary care providers including Granville Primary Care, Butner-Creedmoor can do an initial exam and even assist with biopsies if needed. The American Cancer Society recommends a doctor’s visit that includes a skin examination every three years in patients 20 to 40 years of age, as well as every year in patients over 40 years old. They also recommend everyone perform a self examination monthly. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force guidelines state that there was not enough evidence for them to recommend for or against any regular full-body skin exams.
At Granville Primary Care, Butner-Creedmoor, we do offer full-body skin exams. We certainly examine sun-exposed skin in patients over 40 years old, but we don’t do these full-body skin exams on everyone regularly. We do recommend them for our high-risk patients, which includes those who have had a lot of sun damage or radiation treatments at a young age, prior skin cancer or family history of a parent or sibling with melanoma, greater than 100 moles and/or organ transplants. We are also able to create individualized skin plans to address specific concerns. When needed, we can do skin biopsies or treat pre-cancerous lesions with cryotherapy (freezing) to help reduce risks of progression to cancer. Overall we try to encourage preventative measures to help prevent skin cancer, but when skin damage is already present, we try to reduce concerns and help with troublesome skin areas.
Dr. Liz Baltaro and Dr. Amy Nayo are primary care physicians expanding community access to quality pediatric and family medicine at Granville Primary Care, Butner-Creedmoor, located at 1614 NC Highway 56, Butner. To schedule your primary care appointment, please call 919-575-6103 or schedule online at ghshospital.org. You can schedule a primary care appointment with a provider as far as 12 months in advance through online scheduling.