Skin care for people who work outside and sun-exposed environments

Did you know that getting sunburned as an adult significantly increases your risk of developing melanoma? For those of us who work outside and in sun-exposed environments, it’s important to practice sun safety and protect your largest organ, your skin.

“I grew up on a farm in Iowa, so I definitely understand firsthand the amount of sun exposure these individuals are under,” said Carrissa Trenhaile, PAat MercyOne North Iowa Dermatology Care. “Wearing sunscreen is one of the best ways to protect your skin.”

Here’s some easy sun safety tricks that will keep you from burning and decrease your risk of skin cancer.

Wear sunscreen

“Most people don’t know that you can get sunburned in your vehicle through your windows,” Trenhaile said.

Truck drivers have a higher risk of developing skin cancer.

“Statistically there’s more skin cancers found on the left arms then right arms because that arm is exposed to the sun when driving,” said David Ensz, MD, at MercyOne South Sioux City Family Medicine.

Trenhaile advises using a lotion sunscreen to make sure you see where you’ve applied the sunscreen.

“You should make sure to apply enough to cover any skin that will be exposed to the sun,” Trenhaile said. “About enough to fill a shot glass.”

Sun screen tips

  • Wear broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher
  • Apply 15 minutes before sun exposed – before you leave for work
  • Reapply every 2 hours, especially if sweating or in wet environment
  • Lotion based sunscreen to help see where you’ve applied coverage
  • Apply to tops of hands, ears and neck

“Areas like your ears, scalp and nose don’t have a lot of skin and when you leave a spot untreated it can become cosmetically disfiguring,” Trenhaile said.

Wear sun protective clothing

“Most construction workers already wear long sleeves and pants for safety, but anyone who is outside for long periods of time should do this to protect your skin,” Trenhaile said.

Other sun protective clothing tips include:

  • Wear denim and canvas pants
  • Bright colored clothing or dark clothes help absorb the sun’s rays
  • Wear wide brim hat that shades ears and nose
  • Sunglasses that protect against UV rays

Seek shade between 10 am – 2 pm

“In Iowa the sun’s rays is strongest from 10 am to 2 pm,” Trenhaile said. “You’re more likely to get sunburned or have sun damage during this time, so, if you’re able, take breaks in the shade during this time.”

Self-skin checks

“An easy way to remember to do a skin check is check your birthday suit on your birthday,” Trenhaile said.

To do a self-skin check you only need a full-length mirror and a handheld mirror.

“You want to make sure you look all over your body,” Trenhaile said. “Even places that aren’t usually sun exposed can still have spots develop.”

Make sure to touch your moles as well. Skin checks are both visual and tactile

“Sometimes we can determine from the texture if a spot is benign, precancerous or cancerous,” Trenhaile said.

Fact vs Myth

Myth: My skin has become adapted to the sun

“Your skin may have some hardening from repeat sun exposure, but it’s not enough to be significant or immune to the sun,” Trenhaile said. “You can still get sunburns and damage your skin.”

Myth: If it’s cloudy I can’t get sunburned

“The sun’s rays penetrate through the clouds. Every time you’re outside you need to be wearing sunscreen and protecting your skin, not just one sunny day,” Trenhaile said.

Myth: If I am tan, I can’t get skin cancer

“Anytime you tan or sunburn you are damaging the DNA in your skin,” Trenhaile said. “With more damage you are directly increasing your risk of skin cancer and melanoma.”

Myth: Once I get sunburn, I’ll be fine

“There is no such thing as a base tan. A tan is your skin damaged,” Trenhaile said.

Myth: Skin cancer isn’t as dangerous as other cancers

“Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States,” Trenhaile said. “1 in 5 people will develop skin cancer at some point in their lifetime. When left untreated it can spread to other organs and even cause death.”

Trenhaile recommends watching for any new or changing pigmented lesions, watching for spots that hurt or bleed or don’t fully heal and talking with your provider or dermatologist about any areas you may be concerned about.

If you’ve had a spot for years or aren’t sure if it’s something to worry about, Trenhaile recommends coming in to see a dermatologist.

“Definitely still come in and see us,” Trenhaile said. “We can help put your mind at ease and if it ends up being something, we can get it treated promptly.”

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