Health

Blocking out the sun

How to take care of your skin in Colorado sun

Posted 6/9/17

Colorado is one of those places that really shows its best self in the summertime.

Outdoor enthusiasts, from the casual to the fanatic, can check off practically every box here in the state: Camping, climbing, hiking, biking, fishing, running, …

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Health

Blocking out the sun

How to take care of your skin in Colorado sun

Posted

Colorado is one of those places that really shows its best self in the summertime.

Outdoor enthusiasts, from the casual to the fanatic, can check off practically every box here in the state: Camping, climbing, hiking, biking, fishing, running, tubing and rafting are just a handful of activities to try during the summer. And when activities like checking out baseball games, going to an outdoor concert and sampling street fairs and farmers markets get factored in, it all adds up to a lot of time in the sun.

“A combination of high altitude and high UV (ultra violet) index readings often produces conditions where it can only take 10 minutes to get sunburned if you're not careful, ” said Dr. Richard Asarch, founder of Asarch Dermatology and Aesthetics, which has branches in Castle Rock, Englewood, Lakewood and Westminster. “People are often fooled by the dry cool air, but are actually getting more intense UV light exposure because of our elevation.”

The Colorado Melanoma Foundation reports that Colorado’s skin cancer diagnosis is 30 percent higher than the national average. The state’s residents are also in the highest risk group for death from skin cancer in the nation, a rate that continues to rise year after year.

“I don’t want people to be afraid to be outside, but while you are out there, you should do what you can to avoid sunburn,” said Dr. Neil Box, associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and president of the Melanoma Foundation. “Every year when summer comes around, we try to remind people of the negative health consequences that come with spending time unprotected in the sun.”

Damage to the skin comes from the sun’s UV rays, of which two kinds are particularly intense — UVA and UVB. The intensity of UVA rays is more consistent throughout the day, whereas the intensity of UVB fluctuates but is strongest around noon and has a greater effect on DNA, according to the Melanoma Foundation.

In addition to skin cancer, particularly melanoma, over-exposure to the sun also leads to premature aging of the skin.

“People should try to avoid the midday sun, so I say do your activities before 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m.,” said Dr. Robert Dellavalle, professor of dermatology and public health at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “You don’t want to use sunscreen to stay out longer. You should use it to prevent getting burned while you’re out.”

One good way to tell if it’s too sunny to be out without protection is to look at your shadow. If a person’s shadow is shorter than the person is tall, then it's time to seek out shade, Dellavalle said.

How to protect yourself

The best thing a person can do to avoid sunburn when outside is stick to the shady areas, but since that isn’t always an option, it’s important to remember coverage.

Long-sleeved shirts and pants are good ideas, according to experts, and many companies now make breathable fabrics that will stay cool in the heat. Hats, specifically those with wide brims, are also highly recommended, especially for people who are bald.

“Bikers forget that their helmets have slits in them so the top of their heads can get burned,” Asarch said. “Baseball caps don't cover your ears, so I recommend a wide brim that provides shade to your whole head, face and ears.”

When it comes to sunscreen, people should look for broad spectrum, which means it will protect the skin from both UVA and UVB, and get at least SPF 30, said David Erickson, president and founder of Rocky Mountain Sunscreen, which is headquartered in Arvada.

“The thing I notice most is people don’t put sunscreen on properly,” he said. “You want to apply it indoors, at least 15 to 30 minutes before going outside. Sunscreen is designed to go on cool, dry skin, and if you put it on when you’re already sweating, it’s just going to be pushed out with the other moisture.”

Another problem many people have is not using enough sunscreen. A good reference is about a shot glass’s worth (or an ounce) is the proper amount to use, Erickson said.

As is always the case with cancer, early detection is key, so Dr. Stan Hill, with Golden’s Hill Center for Dermatology, advised at least an annual skin check. People should also make note of any spots or blemishes, and keep an eye on them.

“Set a good example for the kids, and take care of your skin,” he said. “If they see you being smart with the sun, they’ll pick up on it.”

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