The do’s and don’ts of sun safety for older adults

The do’s and don’ts of sun safety for older adults

By Katie Maceyko, Nurse Practitioner

Learn how to protect yourself and others from the harmful rays of the sun

As we age, our skin changes. It becomes thinner, loses fat, becomes more susceptible to damage, and no longer looks as firm and smooth as it once did. Years of being out in the sunlight for long periods of time or suntanning can lead to wrinkles, dryness, age spots, and even cancer. 

Skin cancer is particularly high among adults 65+, and this particular group of individuals likely had significant exposure to the sun long before there was widespread knowledge on the effects of sun exposure. In fact, less than half of older adults protect their skin from the sun when outside for an hour or more. Yet, most skin cancers result from sun damage over the course of our lives.

With older adults living longer than ever before – the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that those who reach the age of 65 can expect to live an average of two additional decades – it’s critical for people of all ages to understand the importance of caring for their skin. Spending time in the sun unprotected leads to skin damage, which makes us prone to developing other health conditions. 

As we enjoy the summer sun, let’s not forget to wear a hat and apply sunscreen. Continue reading to learn about sun safety do’s and don’ts, tailored specifically for older adults, to help you enjoy the sunshine responsibly and healthily.

The do’s:

  • DO apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher to all exposed skin areas, even on cloudy days. Reapply every two hours when outdoors, and more often if swimming or engaged in physical activities.

  • DO wear protective clothing, such as lightweight long-sleeved shirts and pants in light colors to keep you cool; wide-brimmed hats that provide shade for your face, ears, and neck; and sunglasses that block 100% of UVA and UVB rays to protect your eyes from damage.

  • DO seek shade, especially between the peak hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun's rays are strongest. Use umbrellas and canopies for additional protection when spending extended time outdoors.

  • DO carry a water bottle with you to stay hydrated and prevent heat-related illnesses.

  • DO perform regular self-examinations of your skin for new or changing moles or spots that may be a sign of cancer. Let your healthcare provider know if you notice any changes or abnormalities.

The don'ts:

  • DON'T overlook how the medications you are taking may increase your sensitivity to the sun. Consult with your primary care provider to understand if your medications have this side effect – and take extra precautions if they do.

  • DON'T skip sun safety on cloudy days! Harmful UV rays can penetrate clouds.

  • DON'T spend excessive time in direct sunlight without proper protection, as older adults have more vulnerable skin.

  • DON'T forget to apply sunscreen to often-missed spots such as your lips, ears, tops of feet, and hands.

  • DON'T use sun lamps, tanning beds, or other sources of artificial UV light, which emit harmful UV radiation that can increase your risk of skin cancer and accelerate skin aging.

You’re never too old to practice good sun safety

Most older adults haven’t had the same level of access to sun safety knowledge that’s available today, beyond the need to avoid a bad sunburn. As youngsters, we often swam, hiked, biked, and played sports without sunscreen or protective clothing. Many even sunbathed with baby oil or under sun lamps in hopes of achieving a deep tan. Suffering just five sunburns over your lifetime more than doubles your chances of developing melanoma. 

While we can’t change past behaviors or recover the skin of our youth, we can at least protect ourselves from the ongoing, harmful effects of the sun. Most importantly, limit your time in the sun and check your skin often. If you find any changes that worry you, make plans to see your healthcare provider. And remember – it's never too late to start practicing good sun safety habits. 

Stay safe, stay healthy, and enjoy the sunshine responsibly this summer!

Katie Maceyko, NP, is a Primary Care Practitioner (PCP) for Patina, which delivers comprehensive care and health navigation for adults 65+ enrolled in traditional Medicare or participating Medicare Advantage plans. She is a graduate of Jefferson University in Philadelphia and has been a clinician for more than 10 years. Read why Katie is a patient favorite on Healthgrades.

Are you looking for a provider who considers your whole-person health, including support for your physical, mental health and social care needs? Patina is a unique medical practice that supports your total health and well-being.