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Taking on the Summer Sun

June 26, 2019

As the heat of summer approaches and the temperature continues to rise, the sun’s damaging effects become ever more prevalent. Many times throughout the summer, the humid and tropical North Carolina (NC) weather, will exceed a temperature of 90℉ with 100% humidity. The beautiful sunny weather drives many people to the beach, the pool, the park, or anyplace outside to enjoy the sun. However, during the hottest season in NC, we often forget just how damaging the sun can be to the human body. Sun rays penetrate the skin and can cause detrimental side effects to not only the exterior of the body, such as sunburns, but also to the interior, as cells become damaged and possibly tumorous. Nonetheless, if we can understand what a sunburn is, how the sun is harmful to us, and most importantly, how to minimize the sun's harmful effects, we can enjoy our summers in a safer way.

Sunburn is caused by overexposure to ultraviolet rays (UV) that are emitted by the sun. Sunburn is usually imagined as red, blistering, and peeling skin that is painful to touch. However, this is not the only appearance sunburn can take. In truth, any time your skin tans or darkens in response to the sun, you have been sunburned. Therefore, any amount of suntanning is actually a sunburn. Dr. Ashley Rice, a dermatology resident at Sampson Regional Medical Center, says, “it is important to remember that even a sun TAN indicates skin damage and can possibly lead to skin cancer.” Like any burn, sunburn can have varying degrees of severity, with extreme cases of sunburn requiring medical attention. Children are generally at a higher risk for sunburn than adults. According to Dr. William Carr, a pediatrician with Clinton Medical Clinic (CMC), “Young children are very susceptible to sunburn. Children younger than 6 months should stay out of direct sunlight if possible.”

When the sun’s rays make contact with our skin, they cause an inflammatory response that we know as sunburn. Exposure to high levels of UV rays can also lead to skin cancer which usually presents as visible changes on the surface of the skin. In most cases, a sunburn will slowly fade on its own and the skin will return to a natural pigment. Due to the vast amount of ways skin cancer can look, check your skin for changes frequently and report them to your physician. According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), children and young adults (ages 6 months to 24 years) should minimize exposure to the sun and its UV rays.

Sunscreen is one way to reduce the risk of being sunburned. Sunscreen should be used every time you plan on going out. In addition, it is not enough to simply apply sunscreen in the morning and forget about it; you should make sure to reapply your sunscreen throughout the day. Dr. Ken Yang, a family medicine physician with CMC, recommends that sunscreen be “applied at least every 4 hours and 1 hour after swimming even if it is rated water resistant.” You should also be careful to apply sunscreen properly; sunscreen should be applied to every exposed portion of your skin. It is easy to forget to apply sunscreen to parts of your face; Carrie Green, a physician’s assistant with CMC, says, “Skin cancers are common on the nose, eyelids, and ears- these areas are often forgotten when applying sunblock.” Along with sunscreen, be sure to wear proper clothing when going out. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat or sunglasses can reduce the damaging effects of the sun to the face. Sunlight is usually at its peak from the late morning to the mid-afternoon; conducting outdoor activities during early morning and evening hours will minimize the harmful extremes of heat caused by sun exposure. 

The skin is the largest organ in the human body, but all too often we forget to take proper care of it. During the summer months, proper skin care can be as simple as using an appropriate amount of sunscreen, wearing proper clothing and hats to shield your skin from the sun, and trying to avoid peak hours of sunlight. Starting safe habits at a young age will help protect the skin and our cells from long term damage caused by the sun and will instill a good routine for taking on the hot North Carolina weather.

Byline: Co-authored by Katey Yang and Payton O’Quinn, Pre-Med Student Interns, Sampson Regional Medical Center

About the contributors:

Payton O’Quinn is from Clinton, NC, and is a 2017 homeschool graduate. He attends North Carolina State University with a major in animal science and minor in genetics. After completion of his undergraduate degree, O’Quinn plans to attend medical school, hopefully in North Carolina.  Inspired by the dedicated physicians in Sampson County, his ultimate goal is to practice medicine in a rural community like his hometown.  He has a passion for learning and science and looks for opportunities to serve others. His studies in animal science have helped him gain a greater understanding and connection to the community while also studying how nutrition impacts our health.

Katey Yang is from Clinton, NC, and is a 2017 graduate of Clinton High School.  She attends Tufts University with studies in cognitive and brain science.  After college, she plans to attend medical school with dreams of becoming a pediatric plastic surgeon.  She has a passion for helping others and working with kids and believes a career in pediatric medicine will be a good fit. Her research related to malformations in children has specifically interested her in pediatric plastic surgery.