Promoting Sun Safety with Your Patients

By: Jennifer Heiligman, PT, MPT

The summer is upon us!  While this summer may look a bit different than past summers there will surely still be some fun in the sun.  This summer as you are grabbing your mask on the way out the door, there is one more thing you do not want to forget, sunscreen!  Whether you are going to the beach or pool, attending a socially distanced barbecue or heading outside to exercise, sun safety is extremely important.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, per the National Foundation for Cancer Research.  According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, an estimated 196,060 people in the US will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2020.   That is a disheartening statistic since 90% of melanomas are considered preventable.  As healthcare professionals we have an opportunity to make an impact by promoting sun safety.

The American Cancer Society offers these tips for sun safety:   

  1. Cover up.  This includes wearing long sleeves and long pants.  A wide brimmed hat will help to keep the sun off your face, ears, neck and scalp.  
  2. Use sunscreen.   You should use a broad spectrum sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30.  While sunscreen is especially important in the summer, it should be worn all year round.  Sunscreen should be reapplied at least every 2 hours and after sweating or swimming.  
  3. Seek shade.  You should avoid direct sun exposure between the hours of 10:00am and 4:00pm since this is when UV rays are the strongest.  
  4. Protect your eyes.  Make it a habit to wear sunglasses when outside and driving.  You will get the most protection from wrap around sunglasses that block at least 99% of UV light. 

As a clinician, you can promote sun safety by talking to your patients about the American Cancer Society’s recommendations.  This can easily be worked into your normal conversation regarding the patient’s outdoor hobbies, occupation, plans for their weekend or vacation.  It is also good to remind them that they should be following the recommendations even on an overcast day.  Sun exposure can still occur when it is cloudy.  Your runners, golfers, gardeners and outside construction workers should be wearing sunglasses, long sleeves, a hat and sunscreen to protect themselves.  As therapists we are generally in close contact with our patients.  If you see a mole or freckle that looks a little odd, recommend that the patient get a consultation with a dermatologist.  Early detection could save their life.

Your practice itself can also promote sun safety.  If you have windows that allow for sun exposure, you may want to invest in UV filtering window treatments that could be used during peak sun hours.  These can block the harmful rays, but still allow your clinic to have natural light.  Display posters containing tips for sun safety around the clinic.  You could also create patient education handouts on this topic.  As a promotion, you could give out sunscreen bottles that have the name of your practice printed on them or simply put a sticker with your practice information on the bottle.  You could also have sunglasses with your practice’s name created to give to your patients as a free gift.  These personalized items will help you get a little bit of advertising while also promoting sun safety to your patients. 

As healthcare professionals, our goal is to help our patients regain and/or maintain good health and function so they can live their best life.   One aspect of this is to help educate our patients on the importance of sun safety.  Being outside and active in the fresh air can do wonders for the body and the mind.  We don’t want to discourage our patients from going outside.  By adding this topic to your normal patient education discussions, you can encourage them to go enjoy the outdoors safely by practicing and promoting sun safety.   In addition, remember that you should be practicing what you preach.  Don’t neglect your own sun safety.  Our health is just as important as our patients.