Think Twice before You Soak up the Sun

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Posted January 29, 2016

Erin Chapman

By Erin Chapman, MS, LAT, ATC

Growing up in the North Country of New York state, the sun was often hidden behind the clouds throughout the winter months.  Therefore, during the summer months when the sun was out, I spent a lot of time soaking up the warm rays.  I did not have a care in the world except that I wanted a nice tan.   Even though my mother consistently reminded me to use sunscreen and wear a hat to shield my face from the sun, I did not realize I was causing damage to my skin.

In the spring of 2013, I went to the dermatologist for a full body scan.  I have an olive complexion laced with a large number of moles.  During the appointment, the physician removed 2 suspicious moles that were sent to the lab for testing.  The results identified that the mole removed from my calf was a spitz nevus.  A spitz nevus is an uncommon, benign and melanocytic nevus that is usually acquired.  It has histologic features that overlap with melanoma.  The physician determined, that due to my family’s history of skin cancer, the nevus should be removed to reduce my chance of developing melanoma.  During this time, I realized how important it is for me to protect myself from the sun and to maintain healthy skin for my overall well-being.

As an Athletic Trainer (AT) in the collegiate setting, I spend a lot of time in the sun.  Since my diagnosis and treatment in 2013, I am more cautious and aware of the amount of sun exposure I receive.  I wear sunscreen daily, sunglasses and a hat to help protect my skin from the harmful rays of sun.  I also scan my skin for atypical moles, and I have yearly body scans by my dermatologist.

Here are some easy tips to follow to reduce your risks from the damaging effects of sun exposure:

Apply sunscreen. When you are going to be outside, even on cloudy days, apply sunscreen to all skin that will not be covered by clothing.  Reapply approximately every 2 hours, or after swimming or sweating.  Use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen that protects the skin against both UVA and UVB rays and has an SPF of at least 30.  Use these tips when selecting a sunscreen.

Use 1 ounce of sunscreen. Apply an amount that is about equal to the size of your palm. Thoroughly rub the product into the skin. Don’t forget the top of your feet, your neck, ears and the top of your head.

Seek shade. Remember the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade.

Protect your skin with clothing. When going outside wear a long‐sleeved shirt, pants, a wide‐brimmed hat and sunglasses.

Use extra caution near water, sand or snow. These surfaces reflect and intensify the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chances of getting sunburned.

Get vitamin D safely. Eat a healthy diet that includes foods naturally rich in vitamin D, or take vitamin D supplements.  Do not seek out the sun.

If you want to look tan, consider using a self-tanning product. Even with the use of self-tanning products, you need to continue to use sunscreen.  Don’t use tanning beds.  Just like the sun, UV light from tanning beds can cause your skin to wrinkle, develop age spots and lead to skin cancer.

Check your skin for signs of skin cancer. Your birthday is a great time to check your birthday suit.  Checking your skin and knowing your moles is key to detecting skin cancer in its earliest, most treatable stages.

If you spot anything changing, growing or bleeding, see your dermatologist.

I hope that sharing my story will help others protect themselves from sun exposure and check their skin for potential signs of skin cancer.

About the Author

Erin Chapman started working for The College at Brockport as an Athletic Trainer (AT) in March of 2010.  She completed her bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training/Exercise Science at Ithaca College in 2007, and her master’s degree in Human Movement at A.T. Still University in 2009.  She is working toward a doctorate in Athletic Training at the University of Idaho.  Chapman''s research interests are in breathing pattern disorders in the physically active population and concussion education in intercollegiate athletics.

As an AT, Chapman assists Golden Eagles athletes by working with field hockey; men’s and women’s basketball; men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track and field; and men’s lacrosse. Prior to working for The College at Brockport, Erin spent two-and-a-half years as the Head AT and biology teacher at the Winchendon School in Winchendon, Massachusetts.  Chapman is a BOC Certified AT and licensed in New York state.

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