Skin cancer can be a particularly harmful form of cancer.
More than 2 million Americans are diagnosed with a cancer or melanoma of the skin every year, but our beaches and tanning beds are still filled with people trying to bake themselves to that perfect golden brown. Plenty of people spend the whole day out-of-doors without ever thinking of sun protection.
Such prolonged exposure to the sun (and its potent ultraviolet rays) can cause the skin to age more rapidly, drying out, roughening, and developing brown spots and wrinkles. In fact, more than 90 percent of the visible changes commonly attributed to skin aging are caused by the sun.
As an older adult, you probably already know how important it is to have healthy skin. It doesn’t just keep you looking younger. Your skin also plays a vital role in maintaining health and wellness. It protects our bodies from infection and can cool and detoxify our bodies through perspiration.
Age slows the regeneration of cells that have been sun damaged and mistreated, so senior skin care regimens must be particularly considered.
Take steps to protect your skin against sun damage.
The best offense in senior skin care is a good defense. So if you’re going to be spending a lot of time outside this summer, there are a few steps you can take to protect your skin from the harmful effects of sun exposure.
1. Stay under cover.
Try to stay indoors or under shade during the sun’s peak of intensity from 11 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon. Both UVA (long wave UV rays that cause lasting skin damage like cancer and premature aging) and UVB (shorter wave UV rays that cause sunburns, skin damage, and even skin cancer) rays are at their strongest during this period so it’s particularly important that you’re protected.
While a sunshade can be helpful in deflection some of the sun’s rays, keep in mind that only deep shade—where the sun isn’t visible and light can’t bounce off of the ground—offers full protection.
If you have to be in the sun during these hours, find other ways to protect your skin.
2. Wear the right wardrobe.
Clothing is the senior’s first and best line of defense against sun damage, says the Skin Cancer Foundation.
While you may think that your light and breezy ensembles are perfect for a day in the summer heat, research has shown that light-colored, lightweight and loosely-woven fabrics do not offer much protection from the sun.
Darker colored clothing made from a tightly woven or sun-protective fabric like unbleached cotton offer the best coverage. And don’t forget a hat. Skin cancer develops most frequently on the ears, nose, and face. A tightly woven hat with a brim that extends at least three inches can help protect your head.
3. Keep your eyes protected.
Wearing a pair of sunglasses that offer both UVA and UVB protection when you go out can be double defense. Not only do they shield your eyes from the UV rays that can increase your risk of cataracts, but they can protect the delicate skin around your eyes from being burned.
For the best protection, try a pair of wrap-around sunglasses that can block UV rays from sneaking in around the edges of your eyewear.
4. Use sunscreen
Apply a broad spectrum sunscreen (which protects against both UVA and UVB rays) of no less than 15 SPF at least 20 to 30 minutes before you head outside so that your skin has time to absorb it. Reapply frequently. Every two hours is a good guideline if you’re lounging on a breezy deck, but reapply more often if you're sweating or getting wet.
Senior living already comes with its own set of trials and tribulations to overcome. Don’t add skin cancer to the list. Be smart about how you care for your skin as a senior. And as with everything health related, ask your doctor if you have any questions or suspect any problems.
Image Credit: Robert S. Donovan