In Boulder we enjoy 300+ days of sunshine annually, and all that ultraviolet exposure can add up. We’re also subject to more UV rays because of our elevation — at more than a mile above sea level, Boulder residents are exposed to nearly a quarter more UV rays per year than those who live at sea level.
Regardless of where we live, we experience the most UV exposure in our 60s and beyond, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Because of this, the chances of developing skin cancer increase as we age. The Skin Cancer Foundation says that nearly half of the Americans who live to age 65 will be diagnosed with at least one type of skin cancer in their lifetimes — not what you want to think about when stepping outside for a walk along the Boulder Creek or a hike in the Flatirons.
While you may believe the majority of sun damage is already done once you reach your senior years, you can – and should — still prevent further damage and protect yourself from continued exposure to the sun’s harmful rays. And while you shouldn’t avoid the outdoors altogether, you do want to take steps to keep your skin safe.
Wear sunscreen. This may seem obvious to sun protection, but most people don’t apply the right kind or the right amount of sunscreen. Look for sunscreen labelled “broad spectrum,” with an SPF of at least 15. For extended outdoor activities, SPF 30 is recommended. Apply sunscreen 20 minutes prior to going outside, and apply a shot-sized glass amount. Set a timer on your phone or watch so you remember to reapply every two hours. Reapply after swimming or sweating even if it’s been less than two hours.
Examine your skin. Check your body head-to-toe every month, using a mirror if needed. Look for new moles, moles that have increased in size or changed shape, or spots that look different from others. Schedule a yearly skin check with your healthcare professional as well.
Seek shade. The sun’s rays are strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Spend time outdoors in the early morning and evening if possible, and seek shady areas during the sun’s peak hours.
Cover up. While you don’t want to be at risk for heat stroke, covering up will further protect your skin from the sun. Long pants and long-sleeved shirts made out of breathable fabrics like cotton are good options. You can also look for clothing that specifically protects against ultraviolet rays. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses to keep your face and eyes safe, too.
Remember to protect your skin after the summer months have passed as well. Even when it’s not sunny and warm, the sun is still emitting UV rays that can damage our skin. Sun safety for seniors is especially important for us Boulder folks living at altitude!