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Ask The Expert: Do I need to worry about the sun in cooler weather?

Dr. Mark I. Gimbel

Question: Do I need to worry about risks of skin damage from the sun during cooler weather?

Answer: Even though the weather has cooled, the sun is still strong and can damage your skin. Melanoma is the least common form of skin cancer, but it is the most aggressive and dangerous. According to the American Cancer Society, there will be 76,000 new diagnosed cases of melanoma, and more than 9,000 lives will be claimed by the disease this year.

During the winter, cloudy days might make you feel like the sun is not as strong. However, that is not the case. Clouds only block about 20 to 30 percent of the sun’s UV rays. This means that sunburns and skin damage can still occur on cloudy days. Continued sun protection is still necessary.

If you visit a snowy environment, it’s good to know the snow can reflect up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays, as well. It’s also helpful to keep in mind that in higher altitudes, UV rays are stronger and the thinner atmosphere doesn’t block as many rays.

You should follow these skin-safety guidelines, regardless of the season.

  • Seek shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s UV rays are most powerful.
  • Use sunscreen and lip balm with an SPF of at least 30. Apply at least one ounce of sunscreen, about the size of a shot glass, 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply every two hours.
  • Wear dark, tightly woven clothing, a hat with a wide brim and sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection.
  • Do not use tanning beds. Tan skin is damaged skin, and tanning beds are not a safe alternative to the sun.

Melanoma is most likely to happen on sun-exposed areas of the body, but can form in other areas like the eyes and mouth. It is curable in its early stages, but can spread to other parts of the body and become life-threatening. Be conscientious of new or changing moles and seek out medical attention for any concerning skin lesion.

Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center recently opened the T.W. Lewis Melanoma Center of Excellence, offering a comprehensive melanoma program for diagnosis, treatment and research in the Southwest. With a diagnosis of early- to late-stage melanoma, patients can be referred to the center for treatment. For information, call 480-256-5123.

– Dr. Mark I. Gimbel is a surgical oncologist with Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center and the medical director of the T.W. Lewis Melanoma Center of Excellence in Gilbert.

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