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Summer's on its way — these tips can protect your skin from sun damage

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The University of Kentucky Public Relations and Strategic Communications Office provides a weekly health column available for use and reprint by news media. This week's column is by John D’Orazio, M.D., chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology in the UK Department of Pediatrics.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 15, 2023) — As the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, many of us will start spending more time outdoors. Whether you’re planning a beach vacation, gardening, or watching your kids’ baseball games, make sure you take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones from skin cancer.

The three most common forms of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Basal and squamous cell carcinomas form on the outermost layer of the skin and are caused by long-term or frequent heavy exposure to the sun. Melanomas develop in the melanocytes of the skin — the cells that produce melanin and give your skin its color (and will darken and “tan” with exposure to sun). This type of skin cancer is the deadliest. It can be caused by bad sunburns, and those who regularly use tanning beds are also at greater risk for developing it. In fact, all three skin cancers can be caused by ultraviolet rays from the sun or tanning beds.

The best treatment for skin cancer is prevention, ideally beginning in youth and continuing throughout life. Even one bad sunburn during childhood can cause skin cancer issues years later. Here are some skin protection tips that will allow you to be as safe as possible while enjoying fun outdoor activities:

  • Use sunscreen. Always use sunscreen before going out in the sun — make it a part of your daily routine. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 at a minimum. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours when you’re outside, and apply more frequently if you’re swimming or even just sweating.
  • Stay in the shade, if possible. This will help protect you from unnecessary exposure to excessive sunlight. However, be aware that the UV rays of sunlight can reflect off of bright surfaces — like concrete, sand and snow — and cause skin damage if you’re also not wearing sunscreen.
  • Wear a hat and UV-protective clothing. Choose a hat that has a wide brim that shades your face, head, ears and neck. Rashguards are a good choice for children and active adults because they shield the skin from ultraviolet radiation.
  • Wear sunglasses. Make sure they’re designed to block both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Avoid the brightest time of day. Try timing your outdoor activities during off-peak hours if possible. UV rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Skin cancer can happen to anyone, regardless of skin color. Causes for concern include new spots on your skin, spots that appear different from others, or spots that persist or are changing, itching or bleeding. If you notice any unusual changes in your skin, make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist.

UK HealthCare is the hospitals and clinics of the University of Kentucky. But it is so much more. It is more than 10,000 dedicated health care professionals committed to providing advanced subspecialty care for the most critically injured and ill patients from the Commonwealth and beyond. It also is the home of the state’s only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer center, a Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that cares for the tiniest and sickest newborns, the region’s only Level 1 trauma center and Kentucky’s top hospital ranked by U.S. News & World Report.  

As an academic research institution, we are continuously pursuing the next generation of cures, treatments, protocols and policies. Our discoveries have the potential to change what’s medically possible within our lifetimes. Our educators and thought leaders are transforming the health care landscape as our six health professions colleges teach the next generation of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care professionals, spreading the highest standards of care. UK HealthCare is the power of advanced medicine committed to creating a healthier Kentucky, now and for generations to come.