Summertime often means vacations and more time outdoors. This also comes with increased exposure to the sun – which isn’t such a “sunny” thing if you’re feeling sensitive to it.
A side effect of chemotherapy that many cancer patients express they feel the most is sun sensitivity. This “photosensitivity” occurs because agents in chemotherapy are radiosensitizers which help to impact treatment, but also increase the body’s sensitivity to UV rays (the radiation from the sun that reaches the earth).
A little bit of sunshine can be beneficial, since the sun provides Vitamin D for strong bones, but too much exposure during chemotherapy can be dangerous and increase your risk of sunburn. Here are 8 tips to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays during and after chemotherapy:
- Chemo and the sun don’t get along. Photosensitivity can start immediately after your first treatment and last for a few months post-treatment. Several kinds of medications (for cancer and non-cancer alike) can also increase sun sensitivity; so ask your physician and pharmacist if you’re taking any medications that fall in this category.
- Watch the clock. Avoid mid-day sun exposure when the sun’s rays are most intense. In most places, the sun is the strongest between 10am-4pm.
- Pay to attention SPF. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and represents the theoretical amount of time you can stay in the sun without getting burned. It is important to use sunscreens with protection above 30 SPF and to make sure the SPF includes protection against both UVA and UVB rays (labeled as “broad spectrum”). These two different types of rays can both cause sunburn.
- Lather up! Reapply sunscreen every two hours or even more frequently if you’re sweating or swimming.
- Bald is beautiful, but protect your head. Wear a wide-brimmed hat in addition to sunscreen if you have lost your hair, and in general to help protect your ears, neck and face further.
- Stylize with shades. Wear sunglasses with UV protection to protect your eyes any time the sun is out. If your wear prescription eyeglasses, consider getting transitional lenses so that you don’t have to worry about carrying an extra pair.
- Cover-ups are key. Cover your exposed skin as much as possible. Wear long-sleeve shirts and pants so that your body is not directly hit by the sun. Many companies now make sun protective clothing which are light, breathable and offer excellent sun protection without the need for constant re-applying of sunscreen to the covered areas.
- Don’t forget the small spots. Ears, eyelids, feet, and lips can be easily forgotten but need extra protection. Use lip balm with SPF to protect your lips, inquire with your oncologist or dermatologist regarding sunscreens for sensitive areas, and don’t forget to put sunscreen on your ears and top of your feet (two areas that are directly hit by the sun).
In the case of a sunburn, use cold compresses and aloe vera to ease discomfort. Contact your physician if redness persists or if your sunburn is severe.