5 Sun Safety Tips for Transplant Patients

Dr. Thuzar ShinThuzar Shin, MD, PHD, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, gives tips on how transplant patients can stay safe in the sun.

After a cool and rainy spring, summer weather has arrived!  Now that the sun is out in full force, let’s review how to stay safe in the sun – before and after your transplant. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.  All solid organ transplant recipients, regardless of skin color, have an increased risk of skin cancer compared to the general population.  

There are two simple rules to remember when it comes to protecting your skin from the sun’s rays: “No burns and no tans.”  Since it is impractical, if not impossible, to completely avoid the sun, below are a few tips to avoid sunburns and tanning in order to decrease your risk of skin cancer and photoaging.

Tips to avoid sunburns and tanning

  1. Minimize sun exposure. Try to seek shade when possible and avoid sun exposure between 10 am and 4 pm when UVB rays are strongest. Use that umbrella year-round! Be extra careful near water, snow and sand, since they reflect UV rays and can increase your exposure.
  2. Sunscreen SPF 50, straw hat and towel on beachInvest in sun protective clothing and gear. Before going outside, put on a hat with a broad brim that covers the ears, sunglasses to protect your eyes and the delicate skin around them, and long sleeves and pants. Look for clothing with a UPF rating. An average T-shirt has a UPF of 5, blocking only 20 percent of the sun’s rays, while UPF 50+ shirts block 98 percent of UV rays. Once you put the gear on, your skin is protected. Clothing isn’t messy or greasy, doesn’t need to be re-applied and lasts longer than a bottle of sunscreen.
  3. Use sunscreen. You should apply sunscreen if you will be outside. UV rays can damage your skin even on cloudy days. The best sunscreen for you is broad spectrum, at least SPF 30, and one that you like using. Liberally apply sunscreen about 15 to 30 minutes before activities using an adequate amount (1 ounce is one whole-body application), and re-apply every two hours or after swimming or excessive sweating (no sunscreen is “waterproof”). There are many brands out there. Here is a recent review of sunscreens.
  4. Do not use tanning booths. Indoor tanning booths have been classified as cancer-causing agents. Studies have shown a markedly increased risk of melanoma in individuals that have exposed to radiation from indoor tanning devices. There is no such thing as a safe tan. Tanned skin represents sun-damaged skin.
  5. Spot skin cancer early. Check your skin monthly and tell you doctor or dermatologist if you notice anything changing, growing or bleeding. Learn how to perform a self-skin exam.

By following these tips to protect your skin, you can stay safe in the sun all summer long!

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The Penn Medicine Transplant blog features short postings with news about the transplant program at Penn Medicine, notices about upcoming events and health information. Subscribe to the blog and stay connected with Penn's Transplant Program!

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