By Dr. Greg Sweat
As the blazing summer wears on, getting out and enjoying the sun may seem like a good idea. However, too much of a good thing can be harmful. Enjoying too much sun exposure can lead to sunburns, or worse, skin cancer. Sun burns can be mild to severe based on the depth of damage to the skin. Skin cancer usually develops on skin that’s been exposed to the sun.
Sunburns are classified according to the depth of the burn, just as other burns are classified. Superficial burns are usually dry, red and painful, but usually heal in three to six days. A superficial, partial-thickness burn is blistered, moist and red, and is sensitive to temperature changes and even air flow. These burns typically heal in one to three weeks. A deep partial-thickness burn will exhibit pain only under pressure.
Skin cancer typically develops on sun-exposed areas, but can also appear in areas that rarely see the sun. The UV radiation in sunlight and tanning beds can damage the DNA of the skin cells, which can lead to certain types on skin cancer. Risk factors of skin cancer include:
- Fair skin. More pigment in the skin provides more protection from UV radiation, so people with fairer skin are at higher risk.
- Excessive exposure to the sun or tanning beds.
- A history of sunburns
- Living at high altitudes. Sunlight is stronger the higher you go.
- Moles: Moles should be watched for changes or irregularities.
- Genetics. Skin cancer can be inherited from our parents.
- Exposure to radiation.
The best prevention of sunburns and potential skin cancers is to avoid sun exposure, but since we all enjoy getting outside, here’s some other suggestions:
- Avoid being outside during the peak hours of the day when the sun is the strongest.
- Wear sunglasses and clothes that protect against UV radiation.
- Use sunscreen. The key is to apply generously and often. Sunscreens vary in strength, which is measured in SPF (sun protection factor).
This weekly sponsored Community Health Update is brought to you by Shawnee Mission Medical Center.
Greg Sweat, MD, is a long-time Prairie Village resident and Board-certified Family Medicine doctor at Shawnee Mission Primary Care, which has six locations throughout Johnson County. To find a doctor, call the ASK-A-NURSE Resource Center at 913-676-7777 or visit shawneemission.org/primarycare.