This time of year, we often need a break from snow and grey sky of Northeast Ohio. Many of us travel to warm and sunny climates for at least a few days during winter months. Cleveland’s sunny days are also just around the corner and we will be out and about enjoying our beautiful sunny days.
Sun makes us feel better, wakes up foliage and even helps conditions such as acne and psoriasis. However, exposure to direct sunlight could also be leading to development of skin cancers, sunspots and wrinkles. All the things we do not want, are actively fighting against and are trying to reverse. Sun exposure is inevitable unless we stay indoors. It is everywhere we go, in the car while we drive, in the park on the walk, outside at the wedding reception or the outdoor restaurant, the marathon, kids’ soccer game and the amusement park.
It is important to remember that development of skin cancers depends on both the lifetime number of sunburns and the amount of cumulative sun exposure. Sunburns represent greater danger in developing melanoma types of skin cancer. Living in Ohio with many days of decreased UV index, we are more prone to getting a sunburn when we make our winter escape to the sunny climates. Sunny climates of course include ski resorts with high altitudes, where we can burn within minutes – same as on the cruise in the open sea. All this means is that we need to be prepared as we are getting off the airplane.
Our goal is to make sure we are protecting all sun-exposed skin, including the often-forgotten tops of feet, ears and top of our head. Don’t forget to protect the eyes. This can be easily accomplished by use of moisturizers that already have sunscreen in them. Apply every two hours during the sunny part of the day. Additionally, we can bring along ever-fashionable UV protective wide brim hats, sunglasses and UV protective clothing.
With increasing skin cancer awareness, more retailers carry UV protective clothing for most activities. Look for the UV protective label on the tags. If you must be in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., consider covering the entirety of your body or staying in the shade. Full-body coverage swimsuits, dresses, shirts, pants and hiking outfits are ever-more stylish and light, while assuring full UV protection.
Preventing development of skin cancer can be started at any time – with proven results of decreased development – as soon as one starts effective sun protection or sun avoidance. Do not hesitate to make easy changes today. You will soon notice that you are not alone, and skin cancer prevention is a big and popular movement.
Lastly, do not forget to have your skin cancer screening once a year or more often if there are suspicious lesions present on your skin. Those are easy appointments with your board-certified dermatologist. Not all skin cancers are caused by sun. If skin cancer is caught in its early stages, it is easily treatable in a dermatologist’s office setting.
Sunscreen selection tips: Any sunscreen >30 SPF and containing zinc or titanium oxide is adequate; mineral sunscreens cause less acne and sensitivity; spray-on sunscreens still need to be rubbed into skin; water resistant does not mean waterproof; it still needs to be reapplied every one to two hours. Some good brands are Aveeno, Neutrogena, AltaMD and Epionce, etc.
Enjoy the sun and never stop your activities, just be prepared.
Dr. Olga Demidova is director of Helix Dermatology & Skin Surgery Institute in Beachwood.