7 Dangers of Sun Exposure

Published: 15th May 2007
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Copyright (c) 2007 Barry Lycka

With the long, cold winter behind us, many people start shedding their clothes. But what people don't realize is that this is the wrong thing to do. Why? The sun poses many threats - above and beyond being burned.

1. Sunburn
It's important to understand how sun exposure can burn your skin. Wikipedia explains: "UV radiation is divided into the UVA, UVB and UVC sub-bands. Ozone in the Earth's atmosphere filters out a portion of this before it reaches the planet's surface. UVC is almost entirely eliminated by the atmosphere, but enough UVA and UVB penetrates it in large enough quantities that sunburn can occur in less than 15 minutes. Nevertheless, the inflicted harm is often not immediately obvious." A first-degree sunburn can be painful and typically turns the skin pink or red. Severe sunburns, or second-degree burns, cause blistering and swelling of the skin, and will begin to peel three to eight days after exposure. Each blistering sunburn doubles the risk of developing skin cancer later in life.

Here are some helpful tips on treating a sunburn: *Apply a moisturizer with aloe three times a day * Drink a lot of fluids to prevent dehydration * Take a cool (not cold) bath and apply cool compresses to help alleviate discomfort *Ibuprofen may reduce swelling, pain and discomfort * Products containing Acetaminophen may also help reduce pain and discomfort * An antibiotic cream may be applied to broken blisters to prevent possible infection * Ointments, Vaseline' and butter should not be applied to sunburns. These products are painful to remove and prevent heat from escaping the burned area.

2. Premature Aging
"Photoaging" is the term dermatologists use to describe the aging of the skin caused by exposure to the sun's rays. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, just a few minutes of sun exposure each day over the years can cause noticeable changes to the skin. "Photoaging occurs over a period of years. With more and more exposure to the sun, something very significant happens. The skin never forgets, just like an elephant. And with each insult, it loses its ability to repair itself, and damage accumulates. Scientific studies have shown that repeated ultraviolet (UV) exposure breaks down collagen and impairs the synthesis of new collagen. The sun also attacks our elastin. Sun-weakened skin ceases to spring back much earlier than skin protected from UV rays. Skin also becomes loose, wrinkled, and leathery much earlier with unprotected exposure to sunlight." This process will also multiply and increase the size of wrinkles.

3. Brown/Liver/Age Spots
Part of the photoaging process includes liver spots (which have nothing to do with the liver), or age spots. These dark spots usually have rounded edges and look like large freckles and tend to appear on people in their 40's and older. Age spots are not considered to be cancerous or pre-cancerous; although if you notice an age spot with uneven edges, consult your doctor for further examination.

4. Actinic Keratoses
Actinic keratoses are small, rough or scaly spots. They tend to appear on the face, ears, back of the hands and arms of middle-aged or older people with fair skin. Although they usually do not cause any symptoms, approximately 10% of untreated lesions develop into squamous cell carcinoma, a nonmalignant form of skin cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates more than 1 million new cases of highly curable basal and squamous cell cancers will be diagnosed this year.

5. Moles
Moles vary in size and can be pink, tan, brown or flesh-colored. They can be either flat or raised, round or oval, and rough or smooth. Some moles are present at birth, most appear by age 20, and new moles can still appear up to age 40. Be aware. Any mole that changes needs to be seen by a specialist in the skin. Why? It can indicate a skin cancer called a melanoma.

6. Eye Damage
With excessive sun exposure you may also be burning the cornea of your eyes. Eye surface burns usually disappear within a couple of days, but may lead to further complications later in life. Prolonged UV exposure may be linked to the development of eye conditions such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. UV light is typically more intense at midday (10 AM to 2 PM), and is dangerous even when it's cloudy. The American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests wearing sunglasses that offer 99 to 100 percent UV-A and UV-B protection. Reflected sunlight off water, snow and pavement can be the most dangerous type of UV light because it is intensified. If you spend time on the water or in the snow, wear goggles or sunglasses that wrap around your temples because they block the sun's rays from entering on the sides.

7. Skin Cancer
The most common or well-known damage that can happen to your body from excessive sun damage is skin cancer. Peter W. Welty, M.D., F.A.A.P., Dangers of Sun Exposure, explains how research has shown that a major factor in cancer formation may stem from early age exposure to the sun. "Some young children may be harmed more than adults by equivalent doses. Other cancers are associated with cumulative sun exposure, while another type is associated with short, intense, blistering sunburns. One thing is for certain - people who have fair skin and burn easily, with red or blond hair and blue or green eyes, are at a significantly greater risk than those with darker complexions." The most serious form of skin cancer is melanoma. According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma is diagnosed in more than 60,000 people each year and causes several thousand deaths.

Early Protection Early protection from the sun can eliminate these future dangers. Mary Mills Barrow and John F. Barrow, Sun Protection for Life, suggest: "Select an appropriate sunscreen SPF based on your skin type and how long you anticipate being in the sun. In general, a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher that is also labeled 'broad-spectrum' or 'UVA and UVB'-used with sun protection clothing, hats, and sunglasses- will give the maximum protection available when you are outdoors."
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Dr. Barry Lycka is one of North America's foremost authorities on cosmetic, skin cancer, reconstructive and laser surgery of the skin.


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