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Sun Safety for Active Aging: Protecting Your Skin in the Heat

Sun Safety for Active Aging: Protecting Your Skin in the Heat

Sun Safety for Active Aging: Protecting Your Skin in the Heat

Sun Care for Active Aging: Protecting Yourself in the Heat

Gone are the days of slathering on baby oil, positioning a tanning reflector, basking in the sun, and going for the bronze. Today’s smart sunbathers practice sun safety: They wear SPF 30 and above, a wide-brimmed hat, and position themselves under a beach umbrella.

Sun exposure risks are real. Exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays can damage the skin. Period. There’s even a term for it: photoaging. Overexposure to the sun can cause wrinkles, uneven skin tone, premature aging, decreased elasticity, spider veins, and dark spots. Not to mention skin cancer. Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. Nearly half of Americans age 65 and older will have skin cancer at least once in their lifetime. Most skin cancers are the result of prolonged sun damage over time. Sunscreen and clothing with UV protection are your best defense.

What are possible signs of melanoma? Use the American Cancer Society’s ABCDE guide to monitor your moles:

  • Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
  • Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
  • Color: The color is not the same all over and may include brown, black, pink, red, white, or blue.
  • Diameter: The spot is larger than about 1/4″, the size of a pencil eraser, although some can be smaller.
  • Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.

However, skin cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer. The American Association of Dermatology offers these tips for aging skin care (and protecting your skin at any age):

  • Avoid the sun when it is strongest, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (and especially until 2 p.m.)
  • Wear sun-protective clothing, such as a lightweight long-sleeved shirt, pants, and sunglasses with UV protection. For extra protection, look for an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) number on clothing labels.
  • Apply a broad-spectrum (protects against harmful UVA and UVB rays), water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand because they reflect and intensify the sun’s damaging rays.
  • Avoid tanning beds. Instead use a self-tanning product, but continue to use sunscreen.

Sun safety means that using the proper sunscreen isn’t enough. You must apply it 20 minutes before being in the sun and then reapply it every two hours. If you’re exercising outdoors, reapply it after swimming or heavy sweating.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, bald people and those with thinning hair are more vulnerable to sun exposure. Because 85% of men will have thinning hair by age 50, it’s important to use sunscreen and wear a hat in the sun. The skin on the scalp can develop redness, flaky patches and a sandpaper-like texture, which may signal precancerous actinic keratoses (AKs). About 5 to 10 percent of AKs develop into skin cancer.

Hair isn’t the only thing that thins as we get older. While many of us wish our midsections would get thinner, the fact is that our skin becomes thinner and more fragile with age. And exposure to sunlight can contribute to the thinning of skin.

Even if you’re not at the shore or the in great outdoors, skin health should be a priority.  Aging skin care best practice is to apply sunscreen to any unprotected skin. An easy way for women to save face is to wear makeup; use a foundation with SPF 30. That’s why sunscreen for seniors is so important.

It’s important to note that certain medications can increase sun sensitivity, which can cause an allergic reaction, heat-related skin issues such as rashes, or even skin damage. Phototoxic drugs include the heart medication Cordarone, some cholesterol drugs, ibuprofen, and tetracycline. Drugs that can cause sun sensitivity include antidepressants such as Sinequan, antihistamines, chemotherapy drugs, diuretics, blood pressure and cholesterol drugs. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to find out if your medications fall into these categories.

The lazy, hazy days of summer also mean spiking temperatures. When possible, seek shade. If you’re on the move, consider using an umbrella — even if it’s not raining.

A key element of sun safety is to keep hydrated. Temperatures over 90°F (32°C) can be dangerous for seniors, especially when coupled with high humidity. One of the primary ways our body cools itself is sweating but, as we age, our sweat glands produce less sweat. It’s ironic that while seniors may experience increased temperature sensitivity, aging bodies are actually less efficient at regulating body temperature.

Heat protection is essential. Failure to keep your cool can result in dehydration and heat exhaustion, leading to headaches, dizziness, fainting, nausea, weakness, nausea, and muscle cramps. Even more serious is heat stroke; symptoms include confusion and rapid heartbeat. Failure to regularly hydrate can also lead to kidney stones, low blood pressure, and blood clots.

Here are a few cooling strategies for seniors: Even if you’re not thirsty, it’s important to drink fluids throughout the day. If you enjoy a morning coffee or after-dinner drink, remember that caffeine and alcohol are dehydrating so you’ll need to up your intake of water. If you’re not a fan of H20, add these foods with high water content to your diet: watermelon, oranges, lettuce, cucumbers, radishes, asparagus, tomatoes, celery, bell peppers, broccoli, spinach, and summer squash.

So just how much water do you need? The National Academy of Medicine suggests a daily fluid intake of about 13 cups for men and 9 cups for women age 51 and older. As they say, don’t leave home without it. Take a water bottle with you wherever you go. At home, keep a water bottle or glass of water within reach, so you can sip throughout the day. Don’t like water? Try herbal tea, or add fruit slices to give your water some pizazz.

Despite its bad rap, sunlight does have some health benefits. According to experts, seniors should aim for 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure three times a week. Your body needs vitamin D. However, aging skin care includes recognizing that older skin cannot synthesize vitamin D as efficiently as younger skin, and you still may need a supplement to reach recommended daily intake: 600 international units (IU) for both men and women up to age 70, 800 IU for age 71 and older.

While you can’t reverse skin damage that started in your teens or 20s, it doesn’t mean you need to hibernate during the summer months. You simply need to take a few precautions to stop accelerating the aging of your skin, avoid dehydration, and stay safe in the sun.