By Linda Miklowitz
When I was a teenager and in college, sunbathing was a special treat. At the beach or pool side the water acted like a giant sun reflector and I was the solar battery being recharged. It was so relaxing until returning from my day in the sun, my skin bright red.
I thought I paid my dues with a few sleepless nights, feeling nauseous and trying home remedies, like vinegar, to pull the burn from the skin on my back.
What a difference two generations makes! Skin doctors warn us to stay out of the sun completely. I hide in the shade now and watch for precancerous lesions like those little crusty patches ranging from white to brown called actinic keratoses on the forearm and lower back. So far, I’ve been successful with only “fingernail therapy,” scratching lightly to remove them. Light -brown spots have appeared on the back of my hands. I’ve absorbed enough DNA-mutating ultra-violet (UV) rays for several people.
UV rays stimulate the sun into producing melanin, a dark pigment that protects the skin. Even dark-skinned people with a lot of protective melanin can get sunburned where their skin is lighter, like on the palms and soles of the feet. Too much UV radiation will cause the skin cells to mutate. Sometimes cells can mutate and multiply out of control and become malignant (cancerous) tumors. Melanoma is an aggressive cancer that can be lethal, starting with an existing mole that may change, or a new, dark and odd-shaped one may develop. Another type of melanoma, lentigo maligna, starts in areas of long sun exposure as dark flat spots that slowly darken and enlarge. Exposure to sun before the age of 15 is a major risk factor, says one Orlando dermatologist.
Squamous-cell and basal-cell carcinomas (cancers) are less dangerous. See your doctor if you notice a new skin growth, a bothersome change in your skin, a change in the appearance or texture of a mole, or a sore that doesn't heal within two weeks.
UV rays on the eyes can cause cataracts to form that slowly cloud the lens, but can be easily removed with an outpatient procedure.
"Remember, there is no such thing as a safe or healthy tan. A ‘tan’ is damaged skin trying to protect itself from solar radiation exposure (sun rays),” says John L. Meisenheimer, M.D., of South Orlando Dermatology. He advises those who must have a tan for cosmetic reasons, to choose “tan in a bottle.”
Regular use of sunscreen has been shown to decrease risk for the development of squamous cell skin cancer, he says. He prefers an SPF (sun-protection factor) of 30 or higher.
Avoid going outside between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., even on cloudy days when 90 per cent of ultra-violet rays, invisible to our eyes, can pass through the clouds, advises Mayo Clinic at its web site. Long sleeves and long pants are necessary. Wide-brimmed hats help, but remember the brim covers up to 85 per cent of the top of the face, but as little as 10 per cent of the chin and jaw.
If your precautions haven’t worked and you are nursing large blisters, don’t break them. The body’s serum is protective of the skin below. If the blisters break, use topical antibiotics to avoid infection. Drink extra fluids because the burns have dehydrated you. Here is more advice from Mayo Clinic:
- Take anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, etc.), regularly according to the label instructions until redness and soreness subside. Don't give children or teenagers aspirin, as it could cause Reye's syndrome, a rare, sometimes fatal, disease.
- Apply cold compresses like a towel dampened with cool tap water to the painful skin, or take a cool bath or shower.
- Apply a moisturizing cream, aloe vera lotion or hydrocortisone cream to painful skin. A low-dose (0.5 percent to 1 percent) hydrocortisone cream may decrease pain and swelling, and speed up healing.
Have a great and protected summer.