Wellness Matters: Stay Safe in the Sun

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The following weekly column is written and sponsored by Virginia Hospital Center, a proud member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network and one of America’s 100 Top Hospitals for the third year in a row.

After a long, cold winter, the summer sun is a welcome relief. But beware! Overdoing it can lead to trouble.

Ultraviolet (UV) rays damage the skin, weakening its natural barrier and raising your risk of sunburn, premature aging and skin cancer. Too much fun in the sun can also cause eye problems, such as cataracts or macular degeneration. Exposure adds up – the more time you spend outside, the greater your chance of problems down the road.

At Virginia Hospital Center, we recommend the following tips to stay safe in the sun:

  • Sunscreen offers good protection against UV rays. Use a product with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Apply it 20 minutes before going outside. Reapply after swimming or other vigorous activity.
  • UV rays can penetrate the clouds, so be sure to use sunscreen whenever you go outside.
  • Wear clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating. UPF garments disrupt UV radiation and provide built-in sun protection that won’t wear off. The higher the rating, the higher the protection from UV rays.
  • Don’t forget your eyes! Wear polarized sunglasses that block between 95 percent and 100 percent of UV rays.
  • Wear a hat. Hats with a two- to three-inch brim are ideal because they protect areas often exposed to intense sun, such as ears, eyes, forehead, nose and scalp.
  • Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. They emit UV rays that can damage your skin and raise your cancer risk.

When to See a Doctor

According to the American Cancer Society, more than one million skin cancers are found each year in the United States. Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer and rates have doubled in the last 30 years. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are also on the rise. Ozone depletion allows more UV rays to penetrate the atmosphere, so the sun’s effects are much stronger today than even a decade ago.

The most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change to your skin. If you notice a spot or lump that is growing, bleeding, constantly itching or otherwise changing, you should make an appointment to see a dermatologist. When caught and treated early, most skin cancers are curable.

Damage Control

Sun damage is often invisible to the naked eye. But just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Virginia Hospital Center Health Promotion Department offers DermaScan™, a fast, easy way to assess potential or existing problems. This non-invasive scanning device features a black light that illuminates your head and neck to reveal what’s really going on beneath the skin’s surface. Schedule your one-on-one screening today: 703.558.6740.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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