Sun Exposure & Chronic Illness

Nothing says summer like a day at the beach … or several. The warmth of the sun and the sand beneath our toes is intoxicating. Add the right music … a good friend or two … and it becomes a real treat. So much so, that many of us became “sun worshipers”. And that’s when the problems really started!

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The sun is an excellent source of vitamin D and that’s a good thing. But it doesn’t take a tan, or excessive time in the sun, to reap that benefit. For a fair-skinned person, it could take as little as 15 minutes. For darker skin, it takes about 2 hours. 

Often times, we think that tanned skin looks healthy. In reality, when we over-expose our skin to the sun … we do damage. The sun’s ultraviolet light, or UV,  damages the fibers in our skin called elastin. As these fibers break down, our skin begins to sag, stretch, etc. It also bruises more easily and takes longer to heal. A sunburn does even more harm. Research has shown that if you have had five or more blistering sunburns in your life, you have more than doubled your risk of melanoma. In fact, most skin cancers are the result of chronic sun exposure.

When we spend excessive amounts of time in the sun, through work … sports … or tanning … we age our skin. This primarily happens by causing destruction to the collagen. As a result, our damaged skin changes, i.e. wrinkles, leathery and/or rough texture, mottled pigmentation, lentigines or freckle-like spots, sallowness, etc. There’s nothing healthy, sexy, or glamorous about it.

Chronic conditions (think auto-immune) react badly to sun exposure. That’s because they create Photosensitivity, or an allergic reaction to sunlight. Patients with diseases like Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus and Scleroderma are at risk when temperatures spike with intense sun.  For others, i.e. Rheumatoid Arthritis patients, medications carry warnings about sunlight.  

So before you go to the ballpark, or head to the beach, please take the precautions necessary to protect yourself. One sunburn is one too many. And, as we now know, the effects go far beyond the initial pain. Anyone over six months of age should use a sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher). Even those who work outside should use one, daily. Your health depends upon it. But sunscreen alone cannot eliminate your risks. There are additional ways to protect yourself:

  • Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
  • Avoid sunburn.
  • Avoid tanning, and never use UV tanning beds.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun.
  • Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
  • See a dermatologist at least once a year for a professional skin exam.

Exercising prevention steps now can prevent a Chronic illness, i.e. skin cancer, in the future. You and your loved ones are worth it!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8881669

https://www.skincancer.asn.au/page/2215/sunburn

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/skin-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20377605

https://www.webmd.com/beauty/sun-exposure-skin-cancer#1

https://www.benaroyaresearch.org/blog/post/getting-outside-summer-autoimmune-diseases

https://www.uspharmacist.com/article/chronic-and-acute-effects-of-sun-exposure-on-the-skin

https://www.skincancer.org/prevention

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/article-abstract/2475007

https://www.nras.org.uk/photosensitivity

https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dermatologic-disorders/reactions-to-sunlight/chronic-effects-of-sunlight

*Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

 

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