Every hour at least one American will die of skin cancer caused by exposure to the sun. These statistics are alarming and most people are unaware that the sunshine that we all love so much is in fact a threat to our health and good looks. It is up to us to educate ourselves and our children on the harmful effects of sun exposure on the human body like premature aging, physical damage to the body, and cancerous diseases. Premature aging is one main effect of sun exposure.
Becoming an old looking, wrinkly person is the last thing people look forward to, but did you know that the average person gets eighty percent of their lifetime exposure to the sun by the time they are eighteen. Most people would agree that seldom do parents apply sun screen to their children’s skin before going swimming or to the beach and almost never reapplying it as necessary. No child grows up worrying about putting sun screen on themselves before going outside to play, so why do people seem so shocked when they begin to age prematurely?
Fine lines and wrinkles begin to appear on the face, chest, neck, and hands first, because those are the places on our body that are exposed to sun light most often. Ultraviolet rays from the sun, damage the elastin fibers in our skin and this is why it causes these horrible lines to appear. Wrinkles are only one of the ugly effects of our beautiful sun. Many people experience a change of color in their skin after years of exposure; this color change is called hyperpigmentation and has no cure. One example of hyperpigmentation comes in the form of what is sometimes known as “age spots. These are brown spots that appear on the skin and trying to remove them is nearly imposable. Melasma is another form of hyperpigmentation, which occurs when a woman is hormonal. People with melasma are warned to hide from the sun because exposure to the ultraviolet rays will cause the pigment in the dermis of the skin to darken. Skin texture also changes in skin that has been over exposed to the sun; skin will begin to get yellow and leathery looking. Have you ever seen a woman that goes to tan in a tanning bed regularly? The older she gets, her skin begins to resemble a leather wallet.
Moles are another type of premature aging and are most commonly found in places exposed to sunlight. There are costly procedures that can be performed by dermatologist and plastic surgeons to reverse some signs of premature aging, but avoiding the sun and using protective measures when exposed are the only sure way of avoiding these unpleasant sights from happening to our beloved skin. Though vanity is a big deal, the inside of our bodies are also affected by these harmful rays. Physical damage to the body is a key point when talking about the effect of sun exposure.
One thing that is seldom known about is the fact that the sun can cause you to have cataracts. “Short-term UV damage to the eyes might be difficult to notice, but long-term exposure to the sun is a risk factor for harm to the eye and surrounding tissue,” said Simon Donne, optometrist at Simon Donne Opticians, Bedfordshire. The effects of UV radiation accumulate over someone’s lifetime, and disorders such as cataracts may not manifest for years though the damage is already done. The sun is just as dangerous to your eyes as it is to your skin if not more dangerous.
While our bodies are able to repair and replace damaged cells, the eyes have little ability to repair UV damage. Protecting your eyes from UV rays is just as important as protecting your skin, to protect yourself you should wear the right eye protection such as sunglasses, hats with brims, and contact lenses. When working outside wearing a hat will also help with protecting your lips. Many individuals that work outside such as farmers, athletes, and construction workers get what is often known as “farmers lip” or “sailors lip”.
This is a precancerous condition called actinic chelates. Patients who suffer from it often complain of persistent severe dryness and cracking of the lips, resulting in extreme pain in addition to looking bad. This damage done by sun exposure does not stop at the skin and eyes, even though the suns damaging UV rays hit only the outside of our bodies, the inside of our bodies can be affected by the sun too. Risk estimations have been performed by the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment. It is estimated that UV doses relevant to outdoor exposure can ruin proper unction of the body’s immune system. This will affect the bodied natural resistance to infectious agents, such as bacteria, parasites, viruses, and fungi. It sounds like our mothers were wrong when they told us that we needed to go outside and get some sun. The scariest fact found when researching the effects of exposure to the sun’s harmful rays is that ninety present of skin cancer is caused by it. Doesn’t knowing the facts make you want to shield yourself and your children by never going outside again?
Unfortunately, that is just imposable but educating our youth is the first step to prevention since most sun exposure is achieved before the age of eighteen. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, one out of every five American’s will develop skin cancer. The three main types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and malignant melanoma. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer. A study done by the American Cancer Society, found that roughly eighty percent of non-melanoma skin cancers are BCC, and twenty percent are squamous cell carcinomas (SCC).
There are over one million cases of BCC each year in the United States alone. This form of cancer presents itself in the form of small dome-shaped bumps with a pearly surface resembling a pimple. Found primarily on the face, neck and hands, they are superficial and don’t heal completely. If untreated it can also spread to surrounding tissue and cause significant destruction. Though BCC is not usually fatal, it can be if neglected for a long period of time. SCC is the second most common skin cancer. In just the United States there are over two hundred new cases each year.
It often presents itself as raised pink papule or plaque that is scaly, crusted, bleeding, or ulcerated. SCC is most often found on sun-exposed areas of the skin with sixty percent being found on the head, neck, ear, and lip. These lesions are known to be aggressive and may have rapid growth, spreading to surrounding areas. Light skinned Caucasian people that live closest to the equator are at the highest risk for SCC. The most serious form of skin cancer is melanoma and though this form of skin cancer is the least common, it is the most deadly.
Three-fourths of all skin cancer deaths are caused by melanoma. This kind of skin cancer is most often seen in younger people, ages twenty to fifty. If diagnosed and treated within the first five years, chances for survival are excellent. Exposure to UV light is considered to be responsible for between sixty-five to ninety-five percent of cases according to the American Cancer Society. There are twelve types of melanoma, it can be found predominantly in the skin, but are also found on other parts of the body like the eyes and bowel. Early detection is very important.
Signs to look for are dark pigmented lesions that are asymmetric. This means that if you fold the lesion in half, the two sides would not match. The borders will appear to be uneven or rigged and the color of the lesion may gain or lose pigment making it appear to have mixed shades of tan, brown and black. It can also have traces of red, blue or white and the size may be about the width of a pencil. Treatment of skin cancer usually comes in the form of surgery to remove the lesions but may also come in the form of non-surgical options such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and topical therapy.
The best thing we can do is try our best to prevent this from happening to us and our loved ones. Sunscreen is our primary source of protection; apply a liberal amount of sunscreen SPF 15 or higher with broad-spectrum coverage that blocks both UVB and UVA rays to the skin every day. Pay special attention to the face, neck, hands and any other part of the body that is exposed to the sun. Use a lip balm sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher on lips. Sunscreen should always be applied thirty minutes before UV exposure and reapplied throughout the day as necessary.
It is very important to reapply sunscreen every two hours if swimming or sweating. Just because you wear sunscreen you should never feel safe, feeling a false sense of security can lead to prolonged sun exposure. You can buy clothing with a high SPF that can block most UVA radiation. Also wearing sunglasses, hats, etc. will help in further protection. Attempt to avoid sun-exposure between 10:00 a. m. and 4:00 p. m. or seek shade when exposed. If you notice any unusual change to your skin, have it evaluated by a physician right away.
It’s a shame that we cannot lay out by the pool and enjoy a nice tan every ounce in a while without the thought of getting old and wrinkled looking or even the thought of dying as a result of our gorgeous golden tan. It is important to learn the dangerous effects of sun exposure to the human body like premature aging, physical damage to the body, and cancerous disease. So that we may not only protect ourselves, but we can protect our youth and encourage a change in the behavior of skin protection.
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