Tips from Dr. Patricia: Staying Safe in the Sun

At Quartz, we’re here to support you on your journey to a life well-lived. In this feature article by Dr. Patricia Tellez, you’ll find ways to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy.

Dr. Tellez is a professor of Family Medicine at the University of Wisconsin and sees patients at Wingra Clinic.

Summer, summer, summertime…

I’ve worked in the sun all my life, and heard on TV the other day that the sun’s rays put me at risk of skin cancer. Is this true?

Direct, unprotected contact with the sun’s rays can increase your risk of skin cancer and cause premature aging and dark spots. However, direct sunlight isn’t the only culprit: artificial tanning can also raise your risk level.

What can put us at a higher risk of skin cancer?

  • Direct and prolonged exposure to the sun without sun protection at any age.
  • Use of tanning beds.
  • Having light skin and eyes.
  • Having many moles.
  • Family or personal history of skin cancer.

Skin cancer occurs commonly but isn’t always aggressive or fatal. Of the different kinds of skin cancer, the most aggressive is melanoma, which can be deadly. Others, like basal cell carcinoma, are less invasive and take a long time to grow. The most important thing is to prevent, detect and start treatment for skin cancer as early as you can.

How can I prevent skin cancer?

  • Avoid direct exposure to the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. These are the hours when the sun’s rays are strongest.
  • Avoid long periods of exposure to the sun.
  • Avoid tanning beds.
  • Use sunscreens that provide 15 SPF or higher. Apply them to all areas that might be in contact with the sun, and don’t forget your ears, neck, any exposed skin on your scalp and feet.
  • Wear protective clothing and accessories like shirts, blouses, hats, and sunglasses.
  • Be sure to use sunscreen even in winter, as the sun can be just as damaging.

Is there anything that might make my skin more sensitive to the sun?

  • Some commonly used medicines can cause your skin to have dark spots or burn more quickly. Talk with your doctor if you’re taking any medications.
  • If you’re going to be outside, try to avoid using perfumes, lotions, or creams that don’t offer protection from the sun.
  • Wash your hands well if you eat oranges, lemons, or other citrus before time outside. Combined with the sun’s rays, citrus juices can stain the skin.

Skin cancer usually occurs in the places on your body that are exposed to direct sunlight the most—including the face, ears, neck, shoulders, back, arms, and feet. However, you should still keep an eye on the parts of your skin that don’t regularly get directly exposed to the sun. Be attentive, especially if you have many moles. If you aren’t able to check your skin on your own, ask a loved one for help or see your health care provider.

What are some signs of skin cancer?

  • A new mole appears and begins to change rapidly.
  • One of your moles changes color, looks darker, changes shape, or grows much larger.
  • You have a mole that begins to bleed.
  • You notice a growth or ulceration of the skin that does not heal.

When skin cancer is detected early, in most cases, it can be cured. This is why prevention, detection, and timely treatment are vital. If you have any questions, be sure to talk with your health care provider.

Enjoy fun in the sun safely, so that you can continue singing for many years: summer, summer, summertime…

By Dr. Patricia Téllez Girón

Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Wisconsin and doctor at the Wingra Clinic.

A little girl with a hat on in the pool holding sunscreen in her hand

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