Skin Safety Practices

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August 21, 2018

By Mackenzie Simmons, ATC

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and 1 person will die from melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, every hour. There are certain predisposing risks for sun damage, which includes having fair skin, family history of skin cancer or having excess exposure to the sun and ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Men have a greater risk of getting skin cancer, as men tend to spend more time in the sun than women. Also, women are more likely to wear lotion, which usually has small amounts of sunscreen mixed in. Although there are predisposing causes that will put 1 person to be more at risk, everyone has a chance of getting skin cancer.

Athletic Trainers need to promote skin safety practices and encourage patients to protect their skin during outdoor practices, games and other activities. Below are some tips for proper skin safety:

    • Put on a broad spectrum, water resistant sunscreen with at least sun protection factor (SPF) 15 before going outside. It is important to put the sunscreen on before sweating to allow it to absorb into the skin
    • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours or immediately after swimming or sweating
  • Avoid direct sunlight between 10:00am and 4:00pm, this is when the UV rays are the strongest
  • Seek shade under an umbrella, tree or other shelter
  • Certain medications may make some people more sensitive to UV rays. Recommend that your patients ask a physician about this before taking antibiotics, birth control pills, diuretics, acne medication, antihistamines or anti-depressants
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts or pants when possible. The best option would be a clothing item made with tightly woven fabric. A dry t-shirt offers more UV protection than a wet t-shirt
  • Wear a hat that has a brim all the way around, covering your face, ears and base of your neck. Avoid straw hats that will let the UV rays get through. A baseball hat does not give sufficient protection without sunscreen
  • Sunglasses should offer both long-wavelength ultraviolet A (UVA) and short-wavelength ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Not only does wearing sunglasses reduce the risk of cataracts, but it also will help protect the skin around the eyes
  • For lip protection, use a lip balm with at least SPF 15

There are minimal positive health benefits from being exposed to direct sunlight without some use of skin protection. The main benefit of spending time in the sun is the absorption of Vitamin D, but that can be also be gained through taking a multivitamin or through food supplementation.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, UV radiation from the sun and tanning beds are classified as a human carcinogen. There are many negative health effects of UV radiation, including:

  • Melanoma - Most serious form of skin cancer; one of the most common cancers among adolescents and young adults ages 15-29. Melanoma causes more than 75% of skin cancer deaths
  • Nonmelanoma skin cancers - Less deadly than melanoma but can cause disfigurement or serious health problems if left untreated
  • Premature Aging, Skin Damage - Can cause the skin to become thick, wrinkled and leathery. It is thought that up to 90% of visible skin changes are from sunlight
  • Cataracts - Vision is clouded because of loss of transparency in the lens. Cataracts may lead to blindness if not treated
  • Immune Suppression - Overexposure to UV radiation may suppress proper functioning of the body’s immune system, by weakening the skin’s ability to act as protection
  • Basal cell carcinomas - Most common type of skin cancer tumors. This type of cancer grows slowly and does not usually spread in the body. These types of tumors usually appear as small, fleshy bumps or nodules on the head or neck
  • Squamous cell carcinomas - Less common type of skin cancer tumors. These tumors usually appear as nodules or red, scaly patches. This type can spread to other parts of the body
  • Actinic keratosis - Skin growths that occur on body areas exposed to the sun, which is typically the face, hand, forearms and neck. The growths are usually raised, reddish, and rough-textured, and put you at risk for squamous cell carcinoma
  • Other Eye Damage
    • Pterygium - tissue growth that can block vision
    • Skin cancer around eyes
    • Degeneration of the macula

During the hot, sunny months of the year, encourage patients to use multiple practices for skin safety while being active. Using sunscreen is the first step, but they need other methods of protection to prevent negative health issues from UV radiation. Encourage your patients to try to seek shade when possible, or wear layers to shield the skin at all times. It is important to promote skin safety and encourage your patients to take care of their skin to prevent negative health effects from occurring, such as skin cancer, eye damage or premature aging.


Arthey, Stephen, and Valerie A. Clarke. "Suntanning and sun protection: a review of the psychological literature." Social Science & Medicine 40.2 (1995): 265-274.

Hall, H. Irene, et al. "Sun protection behaviors of the US white population." Preventive medicine 26.4 (1997): 401-407.

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