Protect your skin during summer fun

Donald Hughes, MD

Summer brings sun-filled days, trips to the lake, and a carefree spirit. However, as we embrace the warmth and joy of the season, it is important to remember that the sun’s rays can be harmful. One of the most serious risks associated with prolonged sun exposure is skin cancer, a disease that affects millions worldwide.

Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of skin cells, primarily caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. There are three main types: Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC), and Melanoma. BCC is the most common form, typically appearing as a small, shiny bump on sun-exposed areas like the face and neck. SCC often presents as a red, scaly patch or sore that heals and reopens, commonly found on sun-exposed areas. Melanoma, the deadliest form, can develop from moles or appear suddenly as a dark, irregular spot on the skin.

Whether you’re swimming, fishing, boating, or simply lounging by the shore, the combination of direct sunlight and reflective water surfaces significantly elevates your UV exposure. Water can reflect up to 80% of UV rays, doubling your exposure. Open water and shorelines often lack natural shade, leaving you unprotected. On top of the extra UV rays, more skin is exposed when wearing swimwear, increasing the areas vulnerable to sun damage.

Be sure to take measures to protect your skin from harmful UV radiation while out in the sun. Apply sunscreen generously and regularly. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, apply it 15-30 minutes before sun exposure, and reapply every two hours. Wearing protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses with UV protection, is another great way to protect yourself. Consider UV-protective swimwear and rash guards for added safety.

Performing regular skin checks is essential for early detection of skin cancer. Examine your skin monthly for any new or changing moles or spots. Early detection is very important for effective treatment.

“Screening for skin cancer is very important,” said Dr. Don Hughes, family physician at Riverwood who has personal experience with skin cancer. “The sooner it is found and treated or removed, the easier it is to deal with. Prevention is much more important, then you don’t have to be treated in the first place. Ask your provider to do a skin check at your annual preventive health visit.”