The Science of Keeping Your Skin Safe from Dermatology Center of the Rockies.
Life is lived outdoors in Colorado, and it’s a state that attracts the gamut of outdoor enthusiasts. From cyclists to triathletes to sun worshippers, in general, all flocking to Colorado’s 300 days of sunshine each year, cities like Boulder are destinations to bask in sunny summertime bliss.
“Colorado is a gorgeous state with a temperate climate, so it’s very easy here to be outdoors for prolonged periods of time,” says Dr. Kristin Baird, MD, of Dermatology Center of the Rockies. “The high altitude, though, means that the sun’s rays are much more intense and can be particularly harmful during long stints outside.”
A proponent of striking a balance between enjoying the outdoors while being cautious with sun protection, Dr. Baird explains that Coloradoans can be at an increased risk of sunburns, skin damage and skin cancer because of this combination of altitude and exposure.
So what’s happening to your skin as you’re soaking up the sun’s rays? The basics are that there are two types of rays the sun produces, UVA rays and UVB rays. UVB rays cause sunburns, while UVA rays cause tanning and signs of aging, including brown spots and wrinkles. Long-term exposure to the sun causes UV-induced DNA damage to skin cells and, as this damage accumulates, it leads to mutations that can ultimately result in cancerous skin cells. Essentially, the more time you’re exposed to the sun without ample protection, the more DNA damage is caused and can build up.
This doesn’t mean that Colorado can’t do what Colorado does best in enjoying the outdoors. If you find yourself in the sun for a long period of time, take a break and seek some shade. Wear protective clothing layers like brimmed hats and long-sleeved shirts, and use sunscreen generously and often. If your shadow is shorter than you are, it means the sun is particularly intense that moment, and a reapplication of sunscreen is in order. Consistently check and be aware of your skin, scanning for changes and irregularities.
The majority of our sun exposure accumulates during our teen and young adult years, so get your kids involved in a sun protection routine this summer. Teaching youths the importance of sun protection will set them up for success and a future of enjoying a Colorado summer safely.
Disclaimer: If you notice skin abnormalities, schedule an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist for an evaluation.
Sun Damage Hot Spots
- On Your Left!: Car windows don’t protect from UVA rays, making your left side susceptible to sun damage as you drive about town.
- Hands: Over a lifetime, hands see an immense amount of sunshine.
- Face: From windy days on the mountain to long bike rides, reapply sunscreen to your face often.
- Nose: Whether you’re in ski goggles during the winter or shades in the summer, don’t forget to protect your nose!