Summer fun usually means time in the sun. But if you have cancer, it’s important to take precautions when you spend time outside. Here are some tips to help you enjoy the sun safely.
- Beware of skin sensitivities. Chemotherapy and medications associated with cancer treatment can cause the skin to be more sensitive to ultraviolet, or UV, rays. Parts of the body that have been treated with radiation will be more sensitive and are more likely to burn. Take proper precautions when out in the sun: Limit your time in the sun, apply sunscreen, wear sun-protective clothing and use an umbrella to make your own shade.
- Protect yourself against swelling and lymphedema. Due to surgery, radiation and lymph node removal, many cancer patients are at risk of developing lymphedema, which is a localized swelling of the body. Heat, sunburns and mosquito bites can all trigger swelling and lymphedema in at-risk areas.
Sun-protective clothing is made from fabric rated for its level of protection against UV rays. If you are at risk for lymphedema, SPF golf sleeves can protect your arms from UV rays while leaving them feeling cool and dry.
For more information on lymphedema, visit National Lymphedema Network or this lymphedema blog. If you have questions about your personal risk for lymphedema, discuss your concerns with your physician or nurse.
- Avoid the sun during peak periods. Sun rays tend to be the strongest during peak hours — 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Plan outdoor activities for the early morning or evening, and find a shady spot for taking a break. Pay attention to the ultraviolet index, which can be found on your phone’s weather app. A rating of eight or higher will require you to seek more protection from the sun’s rays.
- Use sunscreen. Slather on SPF 30 to 50 before going out in the sun. Reapply after swimming or sweating or every hour for fair skin and every two hours for darker skin tones, even when cloudy. Consider your own skin type and sensitivity to the sun and modify as needed. When properly applied, SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays that produce sunburn.
Choose a sunscreen with zinc oxide and broad-spectrum protection — it protects you from both UVB and UVA rays (the latter contribute to premature skin aging and cause wrinkles). Physical sunscreens that stay on top of the skin to deflect damaging rays are best for those with sensitive skin since they are less likely to cause allergic reactions. Some ingredients to avoid in sunscreens include fragrances, oxybenzone, octinoxate, retinol and salicylates, which are often listed as trolamine salicylate, homesalate or butyloctyl-salicylate (BOS). Repeated exposure to these ingredients may cause allergic reactions or other problems.
To help keep your skin healthy, always wash sunscreen off at night and then use a hydrating moisturizer.
Johnson & Johnson recently recalled five Neutrogena and Aveeno aerosol sunscreen product lines after internal testing found low levels of benzene, a human carcinogen, in some samples of the products. If you have any of these products, you should stop using them. The company announcement contains additional information about this recall.
- Protect your eyes. Wear a wide-brimmed hat with at least a 3-inch brim and UV-protectant sunglasses. Don’t forget to also protect your ears, lips and the top of your feet and hands.
- Stay hydrated. Keep your body temperature regulated and stay cool by being well-hydrated.
Try this hydration recipe from Kris Carr’s book, Crazy, Sexy Juice. It makes two 16- to 20-ounce servings.
1 large cucumber
3 cups watermelon
¼ cup basil, leaves and stems, tightly packed
Wash and prep all ingredients, then juice them all together.
- Wear sun-protective clothing. Sun-protective clothing absorbs or blocks UV rays. A highly effective form of protection against sun damage and skin cancer, sun-protective clothing is considered the single most effective form of sun protection — even more effective than sunscreen. Each garment has a rating that indicates how much UV radiation can penetrate its fabric.
- Listen to a TED talk on sun safety. Two good talks are “Why do we have to wear sunscreen?” by Kevin Boyd and “Which sunscreen should you use?” by Mary Poffenroth.
- Visit your dermatologist regularly. Last but certainly not least, visit your dermatologist once a year for a complete body check. Chances of curing skin cancer are much better when detected early. Find a dermatologist or learn more about skin cancers.