Seniors: here’s how you can revel in the sun, worry-free
In the summertime, does the sun seem to pull you into parks, beaches and golf courses so you can soak in its mood-boosting rays? There’s no reason you should eliminate swimming, playing or luxuriating in the sun from your list, but do take some precautions first. As gorgeous as it feels, ultraviolet (UV) light can cause havoc to your skin, prematurely aging it and making you susceptible to skin cancer.
It’s not too late to prioritize prevention, even if your skin was exposed to the sun in your youth, when sun protection wasn’t widely discussed. As an older adult, sun protection is even more crucial, because your skin is thinner and more delicate. This allows UV rays to penetrate more deeply, and your immune system may be less able to stave off skin diseases.
Although past sunburns and suntans can increase your risk of skin cancer, most of your exposure to the sun occurs after age 40. And it’s this later-in-life exposure that often contributes to skin cancer, which is more prevalent than all other cancers combined. Between 40 and 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have at least one skin cancer.
Protecting yourself from the sun
Do you realize that someone who tans is at a higher risk of getting skin cancer than a smoker is for developing lung cancer? The good news, though, according to skincancer.org, is that skin cancer is almost entirely preventable if you avoid tanning and UV tanning beds and develop other good sun care habits like the following:
- Stay inside or in a shaded area between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Cover up in the sun, ideally wearing loose, lightweight long pants and tightly weaved long-sleeved shirts, a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Slather on a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or higher to exposed skin, including the back of the neck and tops of the ears. For extended outdoor activity like golfing, apply a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Take extra caution at the pool or beach as rays reflect off water, sand and tiled deck surfaces. And when choosing your poolside attire, opt for one-piece bathing suits or long trunks and cover up afterward with high-UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) swim shirts.
- Every month, examine your skin head to toe for new growths, changes in moles and sores that bleed or ooze. See a dermatologist annually, sooner if any warning signs appear.
What to watch out for
Although all people are susceptible to the skin-damaging effects of the sun, older white men and people with light skin and freckles are at a greater risk of developing melanoma. Warning signs include moles that:
- are asymmetrical;
- have an irregular border;
- are more than one color; and
- are larger than a pencil eraser.
Keep in mind, melanoma is almost always curable if caught early enough, and sunscreen can cut the incidence of this cancer in half.
The other two types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are more common but grow slowly, rarely spreading to other parts of the body. Pale, pink, or red raised areas may be a sign of basal cell carcinoma, while wart-like bumps, rough, scaly patches or open sores may indicate squamous cell carcinoma.
To learn more about skin cancer and how you can protect yourself from the sun, look for a Let’s Talk Seniors event in August near you or a loved one on Holiday Retirement’s calendar of activities. Throughout the year, check for other Let's Talk Seniors events on a range of topics relevant to older adults and their loved ones.