Sunshine can have a lot of positive benefits. More sunshine means we can spend extra time outdoors, which is a great way to be physically active. Increased sunlight can also have positive effects on our mood, can increase vitamin D levels which is important to support healthy bones and the immune system, and can support better sleep.
While you’re enjoying the sunshine, it’s important to make sure you protect your skin from the sun as the sun’s rays can be harmful.
Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, as well as tanning beds that use UV light, are the main causes of skin cancer, said Brent Braswell, Nurse Practitioner at Corner Medical in Lyndonville. The UV rays can damage skin cells, and skin cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow out of control in the outermost layer of the skin, he said.
The four main types of skin cancers are squamous cell carcinoma, basil cell carcinoma, melanoma, and Merkel cell carcinoma, Braswell said. Although basal and squamous cell carcinomas are the two most common types of skin cancers, melanoma is the type of skin cancer that causes the most deaths because it can spread to other parts of the body, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Vermont has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the country.
Dr. Moriah Krason, who joined St. Johnsbury Pediatrics in February 2021, said having a blistering sunburn any time from birth to young adulthood increases a person’s risk for developing melanoma.
The 2019 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed that 73 percent of high school students and 66 percent of middle school students had a sunburn within the last year.
“Sun exposure without appropriate use of sunscreen can increase a child’s risk of severe sun burn with blistering,” said Krason.
Braswell said the main way to prevent skin cancer is to protect your skin from UV light.
“Using long clothing to cover the skin or hats when working outside can dramatically decrease skin cancers,” he said. “There are also the different sun blocks that you can spray on your skin to protect it from UV light.”
To protect your child from getting too much sun, Krason suggested covering their head and neck with a wide-brimmed hat, wearing sunglasses, and dressing your child in cool, comfortable clothes that can protect them from the sun’s rays.
Braswell and Krason both recommended trying to avoid being in direct sunlight between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., which is when the sun is at its hottest and gives off the most significant UV light.
For all kids six months and older, Krason recommended applying a broad spectrum sunscreen to your child’s skin at least 20 minutes prior to sun exposure, being sure to reapply more sunscreen every 2 hours. She recommended using a sunscreen with SPF of 30 and avoiding the ingredient Oxybenzone if possible.
“If your sunscreen has [Oxybenzone] as an ingredient, it is better to use is than to risk sunburn,” she said. “If you are concerned about the ingredients in sunscreen, use a barrier type option, such as zinc oxide or titanium oxide.”
For infant’s under six months of age who are in the sun, Krason said you can apply one of the barrier sunscreens on sensitive areas such as face and ears. Krason said if your child does get a sunburn, keep them out of the sun until the burn has healed completely.
People who have a lighter natural skin color; skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily or becomes painful in the sun; blue or green eyes; blonde or red hair; certain types and a large number of moles; a family history of skin cancer; or a personal history of skin cancer are at increased risk for skin cancer, according to the CDC. Regardless of whether you have any of these risk factors, it’s a good idea to limit your exposure to UV rays to keep your skin healthy and lower your chances of getting skin cancer.
Changes in your skin are the most common signs of skin cancer. An existing mole that changes shape, color or texture, or begins bleeding, should be checked by a healthcare provider, Braswell said, as these could be signs of skin cancer.
“If you’re concerned you may have skin cancer, please see your healthcare provider,” Braswell said. “They may refer you to a dermatologist as well, but always get skin lesions looked at by a professional healthcare provider.”