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Release Date: 4/12/2012

Suntanned skin looks healthy - but is it?

Dr. Dana Galbraith

Dr. Dana Galbraith, a Family Medicine specialist, practices at St. Anthony’s Family Health Partners.

Americans are in love with look of sun-bronzed skin – that “I spend all of my time on the beach” look. Unfortunately, that “healthy glow” isn’t all that healthy.

Ultraviolet rays from the sun can damage skin, even at low levels. The more intense the sun rays, the greater the damage. Too much exposure can cause or accelerate dry skin, laugh lines, crow’s feet and wrinkling – which don’t look “healthy” at all. Even more worrisome, the sun’s rays are responsible for many skin cancers.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, with more than 3.5 million skin cancers diagnosed annually, affecting more than 2 million people. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), there are more new cases of skin cancer each year than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon. One in every five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.

Both basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas generally appear on sun-exposed areas of the skin; and, while rarely fatal, can become destructive lesions if left untreated. Melanoma, however, usually resulting from heavy sun exposure, can be aggressive, and even deadly. The ACS estimates there will be 76,250 new cases and 9,180 deaths from melanoma in 2012.

Children are not immune to the ravages of skin cancer. In fact, 80 percent of the sun damage to your skin is done by the time you are 18 years old; and a blistering sunburn before the age of 10 will double the likelihood of developing skin cancer by adulthood. So be sure to take steps to protect your children from the sun’s harmful rays.

When possible, minimize exposure when the sun’s ultraviolet rays are strongest, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 to all exposed skin, even on cloudy days; and be sure to reapply frequently, especially after swimming. Wearing a hat can protect the scalp and wearing lip balm with an SPF of 15 or higher can protect the lips.

The key to healthy skin, at any age, is to care for it gently. Avoid long, hot showers or baths, since they remove the natural oils from your skin. Avoid strong soaps. Pat your skin dry rather than rubbing it, then immediately apply moisturizer. After swimming, be sure to clean your skin thoroughly to get rid of the chlorine and other chemicals that can dry your skin.

Protect your skin now to avoid damage that can last a lifetime.

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