Employers, summer is here and while work continues as usual for most, employees are taking advantage of their PTO by soaking in the sun on cruises, beaches, and at backyard BBQs. These breaks are well deserved and serve to refresh your workforce, but how can you and your employees protect your skin, and why should you be concerned with your employee’s sun exposure?
First and foremost, a healthy workforce is a productive workforce. While some fun in the sun boosts mood and overall health, it also poses risks that can affect your business. According to a report by Johns Hopkins Medicine, $139 billion is lost each year in the United States due to reductions in productivity by cancer patients and those who care for them. With 9,500 new cases of skin cancer diagnosed daily, it’s likely to affect your business at some point.
Lost productivity is only the beginning, with cancer treatments affecting overall company healthcare costs and accounting for 12% of an employer’s total medical costs. Considering a predicted rate of 5.1% yearly rise in healthcare costs, encouraging healthy habits in your employees, and keeping these costs down is imperative in managing your company’s financial health.
Some sun exposure is beneficial and should be encouraged and celebrated. In fact, it’s necessary for a productive life, as long as it is done safely.
Exposure to the sun offers health benefits such as…
- Stimulating the production of Melatonin, leading to better sleep
- Stimulating the production of Vitamin D, enhancing mood
- Activating immune cells, leading to better overall health
- Lowering blood pressure
Better sleep, mood, and health all translate into higher productivity, lower turnover rates, and reduced healthcare costs as long as it’s done safely!
The benefits of sun exposure are amazing, but what about the negative effects? Unfortunately, unprotected exposure to the sun can cause serious and even deadly health conditions, such as skin cancer. So, how can you enjoy the sun’s benefits while protecting yourself, and what should you watch for if you accidentally get too much exposure?
Having a regular morning skincare routine is instrumental in protecting your skin. The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends applying a broad-spectrum, SPF 30 or higher, waterproof sunscreen on all skin areas not covered by clothing each morning before heading outside. Don’t forget to include sensitive areas such as your ears, the back of your hands, and the top of your head, and reapply according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Sunblock vs Sunscreen
Most people use these two terms interchangeably, but they are two different products.
Sunscreen typically comes in a spray or lotion that rubs in easily without leaving a white residue. This product offers protection by “screening” the sun’s rays through absorption before they can damage your skin. The active ingredients may vary, but all work through a chemical interaction.
Sunblock, on the other hand, “blocks” the sun’s rays by not allowing them to penetrate the skin at all. These products are often made for babies and children, are white in color, and are difficult to rub in as the active ingredient, Zinc Oxide layers on top of the skin as a barrier.
Anthem has created a great visual for understanding your sunscreen/sunblock labels, here!
In addition to using sunblock or sunscreen daily, covering your skin with clothing and limiting the amount of uninterrupted time in the sun, especially during the middle portion of the day, are the best ways to protect your skin from early aging and damage caused by the sun’s rays.
A popular theory that circulates each year is that using a tanning bed to “get a base tan” is beneficial in preventing sunburns during extended sun exposure in the summer months. This is simply not the case, with tanning causing skin damage in much the same way as the sun and offering almost no protection against sunburn.
What happens if you are over-exposed to the sun?
If you forgo the preventative measures recommended to protect your skin from the sun, you’ll likely suffer some painful consequences, starting with a sunburn.
Sunburns result from overexposure to UV radiation emitted by the sun. You’ll know you’ve got one when your skin is red in color, warm to the touch, and likely very painful or itchy. In the days following, the burning/itching will continue as the outer layer of damaged skin begins to flake or peel off.
Soothing your burn will be difficult, as there’s no surefire way to cure it, aside from time. While you wait, you can apply aloe-based moisturizing gels and take care to keep the water temperature tepid during showers. Drinking plenty of water will help as well, as sunburn can lead to dehydration. You’ll also want to start a good skincare routine to prevent further damage to the already sensitive area.
Polymorphic Light Eruption (PMLE)
Polymorphic Light Eruption (PMLE rash) is a rash that results from sun exposure and can last for days or even weeks. While it doesn’t affect everyone, the 15% of the population that is affected may have repeated occurrences of the rash if they are not careful about protecting their skin.
A PMLE rash typically presents with small papules or raised bumps in groups that may be arranged in clusters or even a bullseye pattern. The rash is not permanent and typically does not leave a scar, but can be extremely itchy, uncomfortable, and unsightly. Like other skin damage, this harsh reaction can be prevented by using sunscreen/sunblock and limiting your skin’s sun exposure.
Cherry Angiomas are harmless, non-cancerous growths that result from sun exposure, but are semi-permanent and can cause life disruption by frequent, profuse bleeding. These small growths may somewhat resemble a mole but will bleed if damaged in any way. There is no over-the-counter treatment for cherry angiomas, but they can be burned, frozen, or cut off by a physician.
If you want to avoid the formation of these unsightly bumps, skin protection is key!
Of the risks associated with unprotected sun exposure, skin cancer is the most concerning. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and Worldwide, with more than 2 people dying of the deadly disease every hour. There are several different kinds of skin cancer, some more deadly than others. The three most common are Squamous Cell Carcinoma, Basal Cell Carcinoma, and Melanoma. For more detail on each, check out United Healthcare’s summary, here.
Some skin cancers can be difficult to detect, particularly if they occur on your back or other hard-to-see places on the body. They can be flat or raised, painful or not painful, and develop into an open wound or stay closed. That is why prevention is the best measure along with self-examination and regular skin checks with a physician.
Self-examination of your skin can be done daily along with your usual hygiene routine by looking over all of your skin for new or changing irregularities. Kaiser Permanente has outlined the ABCDE method of early detection through photos. Using this method of self-examination, look for any spots that are Asymmetric, have irregular Borders, present with varied Coloring, have changed in Diameter or are larger than ¼ inch across, or have Evolved and changed in size, shape, color, or symptoms. If you find any of these symptoms are present, see a doctor right away.
Employer Sun Safety Initiatives
Encouraging your employees to take advantage of the sun’s health benefits in a safe manner, can be achieved with just a few workplace initiatives.
Encourage your employees to get up and get outside during their breaks. If possible, create a designated, safe walking path and picnic area that is well-lit and away from traffic. Encourage employees to walk or sit in groups as they enjoy some mood-boosting sunshine! Offer bonuses (such as free lunch or an extra break) for employees who spend time outdoors!
Provide employees with a hydration station near the front door of the office. Provide bottled water and encourage employees to grab one on the way out and back in from their break, so they stay well hydrated.
Educate employees on the importance of using sunblock or sunscreen, and keep some for shared use in case they’ve forgotten their own. Another great option is offering umbrellas near the door that can be borrowed on particularly hot or sunny days.
Ensure that your employees are having their skin evaluated by offering complimentary, on-site skin checks by a dermatologist. Regular, free screenings are pivotal in identifying concerning or cancerous areas earlier, rather than later. Be sure to set up a private area for the physician to use in order to make your employees feel comfortable and therefore more likely to use the service.
If you provide your employees with company swag, consider choosing sun-friendly gear such as sunglasses, water bottles, hats, long sleeve shirts, umbrellas or personalized sunscreen.
Tammy McKinney, RN, creator of HelpfulHospiceNurse is a healthcare writer and seasoned registered nurse. With experience in acute care, long-term care, rehabilitation, drug & alcohol, and hospice & palliative care, she combines her medical understanding with her love for writing to educate and inform the public on various health related topics. You can view a snippet of her portfolio here or reach out to her directly on LinkedIn!