How many times have you heard the phrase, “everything in moderation?” You may not have given it much thought, but the old adage applies not only to food and alcohol but to sun exposure as well.
Your body does need some sun exposure, approximately 20 minutes daily, to maintain overall health. Exposure to the sun’s rays allows the body to naturally produce vitamin D which is essential for the body to absorb calcium and phosphorus.
Two other positive effects of sun exposure are:
- Elevated mood. Sunlight exposure triggers the brain to release certain chemicals which promote a good mood.
- Slows cell growth. Ultraviolet exposure slows the growth of skin cells making it an effective treatment for some skin conditions such as psoriasis.
However, too much sun exposure can have a negative effect on the body. These effects include:
- Damage to the surface of the eye, which over time can cause cataracts and other eye diseases.
- Sun burn
- A lowered immune system for up to 24 hours after developing a sunburn.
- Damage to the collagen and connective tissues in the skin leading to the loss of elasticity, wrinkles and brown spots.
- Skin growths known as actinic keratoses, premalignant lesions.
The worst negative effect of excess sun exposure is skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States.
There are three types of skin cancer:
Basal cell carcinoma is the least dangerous of the three types. It is slow spreading and takes the form of small nodules or bumps on the skin.
Squamous cell carcinoma can sometimes spread to other parts of the body. It begins as red, scaly patches of skin or nodules. One form of squamous cell carcinoma can be mistaken for other skin conditions, including rashes, because it spreads outward instead of downward into the skin tissue.
Melanoma is the least common form of skin cancer, but it is also the most deadly as it can spread from the skin to other organs of the body.
Even though skin cancer is dangerous and common, it is also preventable by using a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher and by limiting sun exposure. You may also want to consider have your skin examined regularly by a doctor.
Risk factors for skin cancer include sunburns, especially during childhood, having more than 100 moles and having a family history of melanoma. Fair skinned, light eyed individuals also have a higher risk as well as anyone who has been exposed to radiation.
When identified early, skin cancer can be treated with little or no disruption to your daily life.
Here are some signs of skin cancer. If you notice any of these signs, see a dermatologist.
Although moles can change over time, normal moles are generally symmetrical in both color and shape. They also are under ¼” in diameter. Abnormal moles, however, can take on a variety of characteristics. They might have uneven edges, uneven coloration, grow larger than the size of a pencil eraser or develop symptoms over time.
Abnormal moles may also itch, bleed or have a scaly texture.
These moles are more common in the parts of the body which receive the most sun exposure. In women, they tend to be the most common on the legs, but they can appear anywhere, even places that have never been exposed to the sun.
Having these scaly patches on your skin raise your cancer risk as many later turn cancerous.
A condition related to actinic keratoses occurs on the lips. If left untreated, it too can turn into squamous cell carcinoma.
If your skin has a sore that won’t heal or a scaly growth that bleeds, it potentially could be cancer.
Basel cell carcinoma often appears as a bump on the skin, many times with visible blood cells.
Stay safe this summer!