With the summer season comes warmer weather, no school, and seasonal activities outdoors. While having fun in the sun is an essential part of summer, it’s important to remember the sun can be dangerous. Too much time spent in the sunshine can bring about several adverse skin conditions due to exposure to ultraviolet rays. Keep reading to learn more about these conditions, their treatments, and how to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
Melasma is the term given to darkened patches of skin that usually pop up on the face or chest. This skin condition can occur from hormonal changes during pregnancy, but did you know it can also be caused by the sun? You’ve probably heard people mention getting “sun spots” from too much UV ray exposure.
That nickname sounds innocuous enough, but it takes away the gravity of melasma. Those with the condition may suffer from low self-esteem and reduced quality of life due to the condition’s impact on their appearance.
There are three levels of melasma: epidermal, dermal, and mixed. The level is determined by how deeply the spots penetrate the layers of your skin. Dermal is deeper than epidermal, meaning it is less likely to go away with treatment.
In fact, there’s no guarantee that treated melasma spots will disappear completely, which is why it’s considered a chronic disorder.
That said, there are forms of treatment known to be effective against melasma. Topical solutions such as hydroquinone and tretinoin work by reducing dark spots and encouraging skin renewal. Ultimately, however, the best approach is prevention.
Avoiding UV exposure will lessen your risk of experiencing melasma, so limit your time in direct sunlight, wear sunscreen, and forgo tanning beds.
The dreaded sunburn: Most people have experienced this painful condition at least a few times in their life. Caused by prolonged UV exposure, a sunburn is identified by red, painful skin that feels hot to the touch.
A more severe burn, called a second-degree sunburn, could result in blisters, swelling, and skin with a wet appearance. Healing can take weeks, and you may require medical treatment.
The more often you experience sunburns, the more likely you are to develop skin cancer. UV rays are very powerful, and even a short time in the sun can cause burning.
Limit the time you spend outdoors during the peak sun hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Anytime you do go outside, cover up with sun-protective clothing and apply plenty of sunscreen, SPF 30 or higher, to exposed skin.
If you do burn, keep the affected skin moisturized with burn cream or aloe vera gel, and avoid popping any blisters. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Should your condition be particularly painful or not respond to at-home care, consult a physician.
3. Actinic Keratosis
Although most typically seen among older adults, actinic keratosis can affect anyone who’s had too much UV exposure. This condition is marked by hard, scaly patches of skin that usually form on areas such as the face, ears, scalp, forearms, or hands.
These patches are small, regularly less than one inch in diameter, and may be confused with warts. However, actinic keratosis is potentially more dangerous, as these spots can contain precancerous cells.
Left untreated, this skin condition can turn into a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. Treatments include removing the actinic keratosis via cryotherapy (i.e., freezing), tissue scraping, or applying topical solutions like imiquimod. Another form of treatment is photodynamic therapy, which uses a mixture of light and chemicals to kill harmful cells.
Actinic keratosis arises from prolonged or extreme UV exposure, so you’re unlikely to get it if you take active sun precautions.
These include wearing a hat, as actinic keratosis can often appear on the scalp and ears. If you think you might have one of these spots, consult a dermatologist to have it removed before it can turn cancerous.
4. Skin Cancer
The three main types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Melanoma is the most dangerous, as it can spread throughout the body, although it has a high survival rate if caught early enough. What all these types of cancer have in common is that they can occur from too much UV exposure.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer, often appearing as a shiny, sometimes translucent, nodule on white skin. On Black or brown skin, it more often looks like a glossy dark bump.
Squamous cell carcinoma can appear as a hard, red bump or scaly patches, similar to actinic keratosis, that can become open sores. Melanoma is generally detected when the patient finds a new mole or sees changes in existing ones. Such moles may be darker or uneven in color, asymmetrical, and larger in diameter and have irregular borders.
As with actinic keratosis, removal is the initial standard treatment for all three kinds of skin cancer. Doctors may use tissue scraping, excisional surgery, cryotherapy, or Moh’s surgery, among other methods, to eliminate cancerous tissue.
If the cancer has spread, as melanoma can, immunotherapy, radiation, or other treatment methods may be needed. While the survival rate for skin cancer is high, it can still be painful and mar your appearance. Practicing sun safety will help you avoid that fate.
Take It Seriously
Let’s be honest. Few people enjoy slathering — and slathering — themselves with sunscreen every day. Yet the sun can cause massive damage to your skin, so make sure you’re taking precautions. Limit your time outside at the height of the day, wear protective clothing, and apply that sunscreen, whether you want to or not. By taking these steps, you’ll dramatically lower the chances of doing harm to your skin this summer.