Everyone is susceptible to skin damage regardless of skin color or age. Nurses play a key role in helping clients and caregivers understand risks, take measures to maintain healthy skin, and seek treatment when needed. According to the American Academy of Dermatologists (AAD) the incidence of skin cancer has increased over many decades now- with more than 2 million cases diagnosed each year. With early recognition and treatment, individuals can be cured.1 More importantly, many skin cancers are preventable by taking a few simple and inexpensive steps to protect skin from harmful ultraviolet (UVA and UVB) rays. UVB rays cause sunburns. However, UVA rays are able to pass through window glass and are also harmful. This can lead to premature aging, wrinkles, and age spots.
Dermatologists agree on the following guidelines for skin protection:
- Generously apply a broad-spectrum, water resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30–even when the weather is cloudy! Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours after swimming or sweating.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants younger than 6 months of age avoid the sun when possible, although certain sunscreen may be applied to small areas of the body if needed- always check the label or check with your pediatrician.3
- Cover skin with clothing including a long-sleeved shirt and pants, and brimmed hat.
- Wear sunglasses that have full UV protection- UV rays can damage eyes too. Some studies suggest a link between age-related macular degeneration and sun exposure which is a major cause of vision loss in those over 60.
- Avoid long periods of exposure: Stay in the shade when possible. The sun’s rays are most powerful between 10 AM and 2 PM so avoiding sun exposure during this time reduces the risk of exposure.
- Be cautious near water, snow, and sand- these can reflect sun rays and increase the risk for sunburn.
- Avoid tanning beds- tanning beds project UV light to induce tanning and can cause sunburn leading to skin damage. Sunless tanning lotions and spray tans are a safe alternative to tanning, but these products do not protect from UV rays, so a sunscreen still must be used.
SPF Made SIMPLEAccording to the AAD, the best sunscreen is one that you will use repeatedly. Sunscreens are regulated by the FDA as over the counter medications and the FDA collects safety data on these products. The benefits of using sunscreen far outweigh any potential risk which has not been proven in scientific studies. Look for “Broad-spectrum” -meaning both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays are blocked. Look for the new UVA “star” rating system on the sunscreen product label- the higher the star rating- the more protection. According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, sunscreens with SPF of 15 or lower do not adequately protect skin from UVA rays.2 Sunscreen should also be water resistant and have a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. SPF is directly related to the amount of time a product will protect you from UV rays. SPF increases the time individuals can be exposed without burning. SPF is calculated by multiplying the amount of time it takes to develop sunburn by the SPF. To better understand SPF it is important to consider that very individual has different skin, and the time it will take to develop a burn will vary. For example: individuals who usually develop a burn without protection within 15 minutes without sunscreen would increase the amount of protection time to 450 minutes (or 7.5 hours) by applying a sunscreen with SPF 30. Regardless, dermatologists recommend that any sunscreen be reapplied every 2 hours.
- Bichakjian CK, Halpern AC, Johnson TM, Foote Hood A, Grichnik JM, Swetter SM, et al.Guidelines of care for the management of primary cutaneous melanoma. American Academy of Dermatology. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2011 Nov;65(5):1032-47.