By Dr. Gerard Muraida
As we age, our skin becomes more vulnerable to the harmful effects of sun exposure. While everyone should take steps to protect their skin from the sun’s damaging rays, older adults should take extra precaution.
One of the main dangers of sun exposure is an increased risk of skin cancer, especially among seniors. In fact, more than 50 percent of all skin cancer cases occur in individuals over the age of 65, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. This is due, in part, to the fact that as we age, our skin becomes thinner and more delicate, making it easier for harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays to penetrate and damage skin cells. Additionally, older adults may have a history of sun exposure from their youth, which can further increase their risk of developing skin cancer.
In addition to cancer, sun exposure can lead to other skin problems. For example, prolonged exposure to the sun can cause age spots, wrinkles, and dry skin. These conditions may seem minor, but they can be unsightly and uncomfortable. Some lesions may even lead to further health problems if left untreated.
To protect yourself:
- Wear protective clothing. When outdoors, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and wide-brimmed hats to shield your skin from the sun.
- Use sunscreen. Apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to any exposed skin, and reapply every two hours after swimming or sweating.
- Seek shade. When possible, stay in the shade during peak sun hours (10 a.m. – 4 p.m.) to minimize your exposure to UV rays.
- Get regular skin checkups. Consult your primary care physician or your dermatologist annually to catch any potential skin problems early.
Keep in mind, too, that dehydration can occur without much warning when you are outdoors during hot weather. Heat-related illnesses are potentially fatal.
Stay hydrated with water, and opt for early morning sun exposure for 30-60 minutes. Not only will you avoid the most harmful rays and the hotter late-day temperatures, but you’ll also reap the benefits of solar vitamin D, which can improve immune function and bone health.