Leora Aizman, BS, and Thuzar Shin, MD, PHD, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, give tips on how transplant patients can stay safe in the sun.
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 age, gender or race, have an increased risk of skin cancer compared to the general population. It’s also important to remember that harmful sun rays are present even during cold and cloudy days.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer after transplant, affecting up to 70 percent of patients. Fortunately, there are a number of steps patients can take to reduce their risk of developing skin cancer. While the same sun protection rules apply regardless of immunosuppression status, they are extra important to follow for high-risk groups.
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.
Sun Protection Tips for Organ Transplant Recipients
1. Avoid or minimize sun exposure.
The sun emits ultraviolet light (UVA and UVB rays) that leads to tanning and sun burning in the short-term, as well as premature aging and an increased risk for skin cancer in the long-term. Every time you tan, you damage your skin and increase your risk for skin cancer. We recommend staying indoors during the hours of peak sunlight – 10 am to 2 pm – when UBV intensity is at its highest level.
2. Invest in sun protective clothing and gear.
Sun-protective clothing includes long-sleeved shirts and pants, broad-brimmed hats, and sunglasses. Clothing must be associated with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF), which is a standard used to measure sunburn protection for fabrics. Clothes with a UPF of 40+ provide excellent coverage, blocking more than 97 percent of UV rays. Sun-protective clothing is more effective than sunscreen because it begins working as soon as it is worn and does not degrade over time like sunscreen.
There are also many other benefits to wearing sun-protective clothing: not only it is non-allergenic, but it lasts for multiple seasons and may be less messy than sunscreen. Popular brands include L.L. Bean, Athleta, Coolibar and Solbari
3. Always use sunscreen.
Sunscreen is an important part of sun protection. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using water-resistant broad-spectrum sunscreens, which provide protection against both UVA and UVB light, with SPF 30 or higher. While no sunscreen is capable of blocking 100 percent of the sun’s UVB rays, sunscreens with SPF 30 and higher block 97 percent of rays.
There are chemical sunscreens (with active ingredients like oxybenzone, avobenzone, benzophone) and physical sunscreens (with active ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide). Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the sun’s rays, while physical sunscreens block the sun’s rays from penetrating your skin. Both formulations are effective, but patients with sensitive skin may experience less irritation with physical sunscreen.
Sunscreen should be applied to dry skin at least 15 minutes before going outdoors and should cover all sun-exposed areas of the body, including your lips and ears. Most adults require 1 ounce of sunscreen to cover all exposed skin, or 1 teaspoon per body part. Further, sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours, or sooner if swimming or sweating excessively.
Every year, the nonprofit consumer organization Consumer Reports releases a list of the top-rated sunscreen lotions and sprays. This report is a great resource for finding popular sunscreens of various price ranges.
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.
The best sun protection method is the one that works for you. Remember, the transplant recipient is their own first line of defense. By following these tips to protect your skin, you can stay safe in the sun all summer long.