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Sun Safety Tips for Older Adults

With the dog days of summer upon us, spending time outdoors is a rite of passage in Manitoba. Cooped up for 6 months of the year, no one does summer like we do! Your summer to-do list might include working on that golf handicap, hiking that new trail or spending time in your garden. But does that to-do list include lathering your skin in sunscreen and putting on a hat? Hopefully the answer is yes because if you are over 55, protecting yourself from the sun is more important than ever.

Spending time outside has a multitude of health benefits - the sun’s rays can make us feel good, and a little bit of sunshine a day can increase your levels of Vitamin D. But overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can have serious consequences for your skin, so it’s important to take every precaution to ensure your body’s largest organ stays healthy!

Interesting fact - your skin makes up approximately 16 percent of your total body weight. Skin also plays an important role in overall health - it regulates body temperature and converts sunshine into Vitamin D. It’s your first defense against environmental contaminants and an effective barrier against harmful germs.

As we get older, the structure of our skin begins to change. It starts to lose fat and water content and becomes thinner and more delicate. That thinner skin allows the sun’s UV rays to penetrate deeper into the skin. Older skin doesn’t produce as much natural oil either, so it can become rough and dry. Your body’s ability to repair damaged skin also diminishes with age. According to a study from the University College London, older adults are at a higher risk for developing skin cancer because their skin doesn’t immobilize immune cells as well.

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canada and accounts for about one third of all new cases. Skin cancer is caused by exposure to UV radiation from both the sun and tanning beds - according to the Canadian Cancer Society it is also one of the fastest-rising cancers in this country. The good news? There are some simple, practical steps you can take to protect yourself and enjoy a wonderful, warm summer day.

Try incorporating these sun safety tips into your daily routine:

  • Cover up – wear light coloured, loose fitting clothing, preferably a long-sleeved shirt and long pants or a skirt. It may seem counter-intuitive to be fully clothed in the heat, but the light colored fabric will reflect the sun and offer some protection against the UV rays. Wear a hat with a wide brim (at least three inches) to shelter your face, neck and ears. Avoid wearing a baseball cap, which exposes the ears, a common site for skin cancer in men. And don’t forget your eyes! Wear sunglasses that provide UV protection.
  • Limit your time outside in the heat of the day between the hours of 11:00-4:00 pm, when the UV rays are the strongest. In other words, try to get that early morning tee-time! A good rule of thumb is that when your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun is at its highest point in the sky and very intense, so seek shade wherever possible.
  • Be prepared - If you have a day at the lake planned, bring a large umbrella to create some shade and don’t forget to fill up that water bottle before you head outside! It’s important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water - older adults are also at a higher risk for heat exhaustion and sun stroke.
  • Wear sunscreen – Lather it on to any exposed areas of skin at least 20 minutes before you go outside. If you’re swimming, apply a waterproof sunscreen at least an hour before jumping in the pool and don’t forget to re-apply when you’ve dried off. The Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30.  Remember to protect your lips as well with a SPF 30 lip balm or lipstick.

If you are concerned about sun exposure and skin cancer, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your health-care provider for a head-toe skin check. For more information on the warning signs for skin cancer and early detection, please visit the Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation at www.canadianskincancerfoundation.com

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