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Health February 2016

A Healthy Age

Your Birthday Suit Deserves Year-round Care

By Amy Abbott

While skin cancer is the greatest fear, winter sunburn can hurt and harm as much as the overindulgent first summer day at the beach. The face, ears, hands and arms are sneaky targets for Ole Sol we may not consider.

With holidays a memory and summer far away, wearing sunscreen may not be on your To Do list this winter and spring.

Lathering your birthday suit with sunscreen should be a priority, and here are four reasons why.

  1. UV rays are ubiquitous, that’s a fancy word that means everywhere. Behind the gloom of late winter and early spring, the sun’s ultraviolet rays threaten our skin, the largest organ in the body. According to the National Institutes of Health, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States and occurs in more than a million people each year. Harmful UV rays penetrate the thickest of clouds and target exposed unscreened skin.

    While skin cancer is the greatest fear, winter sunburn can hurt and harm as much as the overindulgent first summer day at the beach. The face, ears, hands and arms are sneaky targets for Ole Sol we may not consider. And if you enjoy winter sports, remember the UV rays are more harmful at higher altitudes.

  2. Your seniority puts you at greater risk. A study in the Journal for Nurse Practitioners notes a significant risk for older adults for skin cancer. The age group 65 and up is growing faster in population than the generations behind it.

    Most dermatologists suggest using a sunscreen all year round. Women can often find a sunscreen with a slight tint that can be used as a foundation for makeup. Your corner drugstore offers a variety of products, and you don’t have to choose the most expensive one for efficacy. Choose a product over 30 SPF (sun protection factor) and reapply every two hours. Use a shot glass-sized amount. Lip balms also come with SPF.

  3. Typical older adult skin issues mask other problems. Older adults and their medical providers may be frustrated by other skin issues, hiding more severe problems. None of us possess the skin we had at 20; our skin maps our time on earth. What may appear normal may not be normal at all. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners reported in a 2012 study that certain benign lesions related to age may “confound the identification of malignancy.” These lesions can include senile lentigo and seborrheic keratosis, and the premalignant lesion actinic keratosis.

    In our community, the local cancer center offers frequent, free screenings. A screening is useful before a person has any symptoms. If you have something unusual, check immediately with your physician. It’s important to have a regular check-up with your physician or dermatologist, particularly if you have other skin problems or are concerned about a spot. If a screening test is abnormal or suggests something suspicious, your medical provider may recommend diagnostic tests or even a biopsy. The bottom line is: if it looks funky, it probably is.

  4. Later diagnosis may lead to poorer outcomes. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners reported that older adults may present with lesions at a later stage with a poor prognosis. The Journal also noted the incident of malignant melanoma is 10 times higher for older adults than for adults younger than 40.

    This fact is why we seniors need frequent screenings and of course, prevention, with sunscreen and avoiding the sun during peak times. Your partner or a close friend can check your back or areas of your body that cannot be seen by you or in a mirror between screenings.

Now that you’ve processed all the bad news, what can you do about it?

  • Practice excellent, daily skin care. You don’t need fancy products but keeping your skin clean and applying sunscreen to exposed areas will prevent burn, and hopefully, something more sinister.
  • Visit your doctor (or dermatologist regularly.) If your medical practitioner doesn’t bring it up, ask for her to screen you. If you have any unusual symptoms, get thee to a physician!
  • Utilize free screening programs in your community.
  • Make it easy on yourself. Get a small refillable bottle at a dollar store and keep sunscreen in your car or bag. A University of Michigan study on sunscreen provided refillable bottles with belt clips to participants. Like the Boy Scouts, be prepared. Enjoy the sunshine year round; just remember it can hurt you if you aren’t vigilant.

For more information on choosing a good sunscreen product, visit the Environmental Working Groups 2015 report at http://www.ewg.org/2015sunscreen/report/executive-summary/.

 

Find my books and columns at www.amyabbottwrites.com.

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