Having a sunburn in adulthood greatly increases the risk of developing melanoma. For those of us who work outdoors and in sun-exposed environments, it’s important to practice sun safety and protect your largest organ, your skin.
“I grew up on a farm in Iowa, so I totally understand the amount of sun exposure these people get,” said Carrissa Trenhaile, Pennsylvaniaat MercyOne North Iowa Skin Care. “Wearing sunscreen is one of the best ways to protect your skin.”
Here are some simple sun protection tips that will prevent you from getting burned and reduce your risk of skin cancer.
“Most people don’t know that you can get sunburn in your vehicle through your windows,” Trenhaile said.
Truckers have a higher risk of developing skin cancer.
“Statistically, there are more skin cancers on the left arm than on the right arm because that arm is exposed to the sun while driving,” said David Ensz, MD, at MercyOne Family Medicine of South Sioux City.
Trenhaile advises using sunscreen to make sure you see where you’ve applied the sunscreen.
“You need to make sure you apply enough to cover any skin that will be exposed to the sun,” Trenhaile says. “About enough to fill a shot glass.”
Sun protection tips
- Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher
- Apply 15 minutes before sun exposure – before leaving for work
- Renew the application every 2 hours, especially in case of perspiration or in a humid environment
- Lotion-based sunscreen to help see where you’ve applied coverage
- Apply to tops of hands, ears and neck
“Areas like your ears, scalp, and nose don’t have much skin, and when you leave a spot untreated it can become aesthetically disfiguring,” Trenhaile said.
Wear sun protection clothing
“Most construction workers already wear long sleeves and pants for safety reasons, but anyone who is outdoors for long periods of time should do so to protect their skin,” Trenhaile said.
Here are some other tips on sun protective clothing:
- Wear denim and canvas pants
- Brightly colored clothes or dark clothes help absorb the sun’s rays
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat that protects the ears and nose
- Sunglasses that protect against UV rays
Seek shade between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
“In Iowa, the sun’s rays are strongest from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” Trenhaile said. “You are more likely to get sunburn or sun damage during this time, so if you are able, take shade breaks during this time.”
“An easy way to remember to do a skin exam is to check your birthday suit on your birthday,” Trenhaile says.
To do a skin self-examination, you only need a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror.
“You want to make sure you look at your whole body,” Trenhaile said. “Even places that aren’t usually exposed to the sun can still develop spots.”
Also, be sure to touch your moles. Skin controls are both visual and tactile
“Sometimes we can tell from texture whether a spot is benign, precancerous, or cancerous,” Trenhaile said.
Trenhaile recommends keeping an eye out for any new or changing pigmented lesions, watching for spots that hurt or bleed or don’t heal completely, and talking with your provider or dermatologist about any areas you might be concerned about.
If you’ve had a spot for years or aren’t sure if this is something to worry about, Trenhaile recommends seeing a dermatologist.
“Definitely still come and see us,” Trenhaile said. “We can help reassure you and if it ends up being something we can get it dealt with quickly.”
Fact versus myth
Myth: My skin got used to the sun
“Your skin may have some hardening from repeated sun exposure, but that’s not enough to make you sensitive or immune to the sun. You can still get sunburn and damage your skin.
Myth: If it’s cloudy, I can’t get a sunburn
“The rays of the sun penetrate through the clouds. Anytime you’re outside you need to wear sunscreen and protect your skin, not just on a sunny day.”
Myth: If I’m tan, I can’t get skin cancer
“Every time you tan or get sunburned, you damage your skin’s DNA. With more damage, you’re directly increasing your risk of skin cancer and melanoma. There is no base tan. A tan is your damaged skin.”
Myth: Skin cancer is not as dangerous as other cancers
“Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. 1 in 5 people will develop skin cancer at some point in their life. When left untreated, it can spread to other organs and even lead to death.