Senior Housing Connection

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Monday, July 15, 2013

By Derek Jones Cancer

We’ve all heard that protecting skin from the sun will help prevent it from aging. But if you’re already older, is there any point to worrying about sun damage? Since July is UV Safety Month (not to mention a time when we’re all enjoying the early summer sun!), this is a great time to talk about this question.

People in their 60s may not be as concerned about keeping their skin looking young as are people in their 20s and 30s. But that doesn’t mean that older adults should stop wearing sunscreen and worrying about sun damage. In fact, a 2009 study showed that older skin is less able to protect itself from skin cancer. The study showed that in older adults, the skin had a diminished ability to attract a certain type of immune cells called T cells to damaged areas where repairs were needed. This means the skin didn’t heal as well, leaving the person more vulnerable to infections and also skin cancer.

Since the skin becomes more delicate and vulnerable as we age, that means that it’s more important than ever for older adults to protect their skin from damage caused by the sun. Older adults need to take special precautions to limit their sun exposure as much as possible. Here are our top tips for keeping your skin safe:

  • Don’t get a tan. A tan is your skin’s signal that damage has been done (a sunburn, even more so). Older adults have already sustained decades of sun damage. Tans and sunburn increase your risk of skin cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. So if you’ve already been burned a few times in your life–or worse, used to tan regularly when you were younger, take special care to stay out of the sun.
  • Seek out shade. Protecting yourself from the sun doesn’t mean you can never go outside. Use a sun shade or umbrella at the beach or pool, and stick to shady porches if you’re enjoying an afternoon outside at home or having an al fresco lunch.
  • Know when to stay inside. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the sun’s rays are strongest in North America between 10AM and 4PM. Take special care to stay inside or in a shaded area during these hours.
  • Make sunscreen a part of your daily routine. Even a short walk to and from the car, or passing by sunny windows while indoors can expose your skin to dangerous UV rays. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using sunscreen of SPF 30 on any exposed skin every day, whether you’ll be inside or out.
  • Wear protective clothing. Loose, lightweight long pants and long sleeved shirts are ideal sun protection garb for older adults because they don’t have to be reapplied like sunscreen, and can offer better protection. Make sure they have a tight weave so sun can’t sneak through. Top them off with a wide-brimmed hat. If you plan to spend time outdoors, look for clothing specially designed to offer UV protection. Also look for UV-blocking sunglasses, window shades and car window tints.
  • Use moisturizer. As skin ages, it becomes more prone to dryness, which can be made worse by sun damage. Keep skin moist with a lotion or cream to help protect it.

Though some people assume that older adults don’t need to worry about sun damage, it is extremely important for older adults to protect their delicate skin. For more information about skin cancer, visit the Skin Cancer Foundation.

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