Sun Protection for Older Adults
Sunny San Diego enjoys plenty of sunshine over the summer months and throughout the year. Although San Diegans are used to being outside, many people do not practice effective sun protection habits. Older adults are more vulnerable to sun exposure, which may lead to adverse health outcomes such as skin cancer1. This is why it becomes more important to practice good ultraviolet (UV) safety as we age.
Sun exposure causes adverse health effects, especially for older adults. Aging skin undergoes changes that result in weaker immune systems, poorer healing capacity, thinning skin, and damage from external factors, such as smoking and pollution2. More than 5 million Americans are treated for skin cancer annually, with the majority of these cases being adults over 65 years of age1. Since older adults have sustained more exposure to UV light, 40% to 50% percent of adults aged 65 or older will have skin cancer at least once3. Sun exposure includes both suntans and sunburns, which damage the skin’s DNA2. Even just experiencing five sunburns over a lifetime more than doubles the chances of developing melanoma2. Each successive sunburn or tan increases risks, making it all the more imperative for older adults to protect themselves from UV rays.
San Diegans have one of the highest incidences of skin cancer in the nation4. The geographic location and active, outdoor lifestyle make older adults living in San Diego at risk for developing skin diseases. The sun’s UV rays also affect skin types differently. People with fair skin types and light-colored eyes are more vulnerable to skin damage2. Although older adults with fair skin types should take the most precautions when it comes to sun exposure, all racial and ethnic groups can experience sunburns.
Sun Protection Tips
Below is a list of sun protection tips older adults can use to protect themselves from UV rays.
While it is common knowledge that using sunscreen can protect against UV rays, it is more important to understand which sunscreen should be used and how often it should be applied.
Use sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher and states, “blocks UVA and UVB” or “broad spectrum” on the label.
Use a water-resistant sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher for extended outdoor exposure in the sun, such as at a beach or playing golf.
Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before being in the sun and reapply sunscreen every two hours.
Reapply sunscreen immediately after swimming or heavy sweating.
Wear protective clothing
Wearing protective clothing will provide some shielding against harsh UV rays.
Wear wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants; some types of clothing are even designed to protect against UV light.
Wear polarized or UV-filtering sunglasses for eye protection.
Be aware of the time
The intensity of UV rays vary depending on the time of day, so it is important to be aware of when sun exposure is most harmful.
Schedule time outdoors outside the block of time when UV rays are strongest, which is between 10:00am and 4:00pm.
If you are outdoors during the time of day when UV light is strongest, try to stay in the shade as much as possible.
Conduct a head-to-toe self-examination monthly to look for skin irregularities, such as suspicious new growths, significant changes in skin color, and/or increased size of moles, warts, etc.
Visit a dermatologist annually for a professional total-body exam.
Consult a dermatologist if you experience persistent pain, irritation, bleeding or crusting at any skin site, and/or notice new lesions appearing (abnormal skin tissue).
Older adults are more at risk for the adverse health effects of sun exposure, especially in a predominately sunny environment such as San Diego. It is important to practice proper sun protection, such as adequate use of sunscreen, wearing protective clothing, being aware of the time, conducting self-examinations, and visiting a dermatologist in order to properly care for aging skin. Such preventative practices should take place not only in the summer, but year-round. Older adults who prioritize healthy skin habits can decrease their risk of sun damage and skin disease, which ultimately help them continue to enjoy sunny San Diego for years to come.