Here Comes the Sun
Regardless of the season in St. Louis, we must be aware of the possible health hazards that can come from over exposure to the sun.
Dr. Thomas Farrell, medical director of St. Luke's Urgent Care Centers, warns that sun safety is nothing to take lightly. "Too often, people don't consider what excessive sun exposure is doing to their skin and overall health," he says. "Simple steps can be taken to protect ourselves and still maintain summer fun."
Sun damage, which accumulates over years, is hazardous to our bodies. People with excessive sun exposure will eventually experience changes to their skin such as darkening of freckles, liver spots, skin thickening and deeper and wider wrinkles. If the exposure is severe enough or continues, the risk for skin cancer (basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma) is substantially increased.
Although we should be aware of our sun exposure at all times, Dr. Farrell warns us that certain situations are worse than others:
- Be aware of peak hours
The sun's intensity is strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. During this short time, the sun emits about two-thirds of its energy for the entire day. If possible, avoid outdoor activities during this peak time.
- Avoid reflected sunlight
Water, sand and even snow contribute to your exposure. This reflected sunlight can nearly double exposure to the harmful effect of the sun.
- Protect yourself in high altitudes
"The higher you go, the higher your exposure is to the sun," says Dr. Farrell. He explains that for every 1,000 feet above sea level, the atmosphere's ability to filter out the harmful effects of the sun decreases by about 5%.
- Consider your location
The closer you are to the equator, the closer you are to the sun and its intensity.
So, how can we avoid the harmful effects of the sun and still take advantage of the summer months? Dr. Farrell suggests the following:
- Dress for the sun
Wear a wide-brimmed hat to help protect the ears, face and back of your neck. Also, wear loose fitting, long sleeve clothing to prevent direct sunlight to the skin.
- Don't forget the sunscreen
Dr. Farrell suggests always using a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or better. He says SPF 15 filters out about 94% of the harmful effects of the sun and, surprisingly, it's tough to get too much better. SPF 30 blocks 96% of harmful sun rays and other, higher SPF sunblocks protect only a minimal amount more. Be sure to re-apply sunscreen after swimming or exercise.
- Be aware and get checked
Pay attention to your skin and be aware of any signs of progressive skin damage. Talk to your doctor about preventive measures and schedule annual exams with your physician or dermatologist.
If you suspect that you have sun damage, schedule an appointment with a dermatologist. To find a dermatologist, call St. Luke's Physician Referral Service at 314-205-6060.