By Megan Wehring
Nothing sounds cooler than lying by a river or swimming pool in the Texas summer heat.
But before soaking up the sun, there are some precautions that people should take to protect their skin.
“We are getting into the warmer months,” said Dr. Erica Stevens of Baylor Scott & White, “and people are going to be spending a lot of time outside. Sun protection is going to be our first line of defense against causing skin damage that can later result in skin cancer and precancer.”
Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun are the number one cause of skin cancer, which is the most common type of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, and one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
“The risk of being diagnosed with skin cancer has increased dramatically over the last two decades,” said Dr. Tyler Hollmig, director of dermatologic surgery at Ascension Texas, “particularly for the most common types of skin cancers like basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas.”
Basal cell carcinoma, about eight out of 10 skin cancers, starts in the basal cell layer, the lower part of the top skin layer (epidermis). These cancers develop on sun-exposed areas usually on the face, head and neck. While it’s rare for a basal cell cancer to spread to other parts of the body, it can grow into nearby areas and invade the bone or other tissues.
Squamous cell carcinoma, about two out of 10 skin cancers, start in the flat cells in the outer part of the epidermis. They commonly appear on the face, ears, neck, mouth and back of the hands. These cancers can typically be removed completely but are more likely than basal cells to grow into deeper layers of skin and spread to other parts of the body.
There is hope for skin cancer treatments. Hollmig explained that Ascension Seton offers advanced techniques like Mohs Micrographic surgery to remove skin cancers with high cure rates and reconstruction to restore function and appearance. Lasers and other devices are also used to reduce the signs of aging that are caused by UV exposure.
Hollmig recommends wearing a broad-spectrum, water resistant sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher and it should be reapplied at least every two hours.
“Most people only use about 20-50% of the amount of sunscreen needed to achieve the SPF on the label,” Hollmig said, “It’s important to use enough. Typically, adults need about 1 ounce or enough to fill a shot glass to fully cover the entire body.”
While using sunscreen of any kind is important, Hollmig recommended creams for the face and dry skin. He also cautioned families to not spray sunscreen near the face or mouth — parents should use enough sunscreen until their child’s skin glistens and then rub in for adequate coverage.
Dr. Stevens said she prefers using a mineral-based sunscreen, especially for parents with children, which only contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
Even on a cloudy day, Hollmig said there’s still a chance for sunburns.
“As the Temptations sang, ‘I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day,’” Hollmig told the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch. “Just because there are clouds in the sky does not mean our skin is not feeling the adverse effects of UV light.”
Treatments for sunburn include stopping further UV exposure, baths to cool down the heat and a bland moisturizer to ease dry skin. Hydrocortisone cream and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) can also help.
Hollmig said people should seek medical care if they develop extensive blisters, chills, a headache or fever. Stevens added that people should notify their doctor if they notice a irregular skin lesion that resulted from a sunburn.