5 tips for staying safe in the sun

Parkinson’s increases the risk for melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. Learn how to protect yourself.

Finally! The long, sunny days of summer are here. It’s prime time for outdoor activities: biking and walking, strolling local festivals, and cooling off at the beach or pool.

But the common denominator among all these activities is sun exposure—something people with Parkinson’s disease (PD), who have an increased risk for developing melanoma—need to guard against.

The link between PD and this potentially lethal type of skin cancer is well known. Most recently, a study published in 2017 in Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that people with PD had almost four times the risk of developing melanoma compared with those without.

The association went both ways, with the data showing people with a history of melanoma had four times the risk of developing PD.

Scientists don’t yet understand the connections between the two diseases—some speculate common genetic, environmental or immune system issues could underlie both conditions.

Fortunately, questions on how to safeguard your skin from ultraviolet (UV) light exposure—one of the primary risk factors for melanoma—are easier to answer.

Sunscreen is your best friend

Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen (one that protects against both UVA and UVB light) daily, even if you’re not spending significant time outdoors.

It’s not just the high-intensity exposure of reflected UV light from city streets, sand or water that can up your risk for melanoma and other skin cancers—damaging UV light can reach you on overcast days and through windows.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends choosing a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen of 30 SPF or higher.

Apply 15 minutes before getting into the sun and use enough product (about 1 ounce, an amount that would fill a shot glass) to generously coat all skin not covered by clothing.

Don’t forget your lips, ears, hands and feet. Reapply every two hours and right after getting out of the water or heavy sweating.

Cover it up

The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that your clothing is the single most important thing protecting you from the sun. Sun-protective clothing, made with tightly woven fibers, shuts out harmful rays.

Look for clothes with a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) label. A shirt with a UPF of 50 allows only one fiftieth of the sun’s UV rays to penetrate, for example. The Skin Cancer Foundation advises choosing clothes with a UPF of 30 or higher.

Today’s options for sun-protective gear include everything from beachwear to hats to casual wear and dresses. There also are many sports-specific options, from high UPF fishing and hiking shirts and pants to arm sleeves and jerseys for cyclists.

Grab some shade

Take umbrellas or pop-up sun canopies to the beach and carry a parasol or shelter under a tree at outdoor events.

You will still need to wear sunscreen and/or sun-protective clothing, but placing a barrier between you and the sun’s rays will reduce UV exposure and melanoma risk.

Make sure to take shelter between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s UV light is at its most intense.

Protect those peepers

Eyes need protection from the sun, too. Look for pairs that block both UVA and UVB light and styles that wrap around or cover the delicate skin around the eyes.

Get personalized guidance on your melanoma risk

Factors other than PD, including family history, number of moles, and skin type, can affect risk for melanoma. Talk your doctor to understand your individual risk and how often you—or a dermatologist—should do a thorough skin check.

By Emily Delzell

Make it your best summer yet by joining the Power Through Project. This social exercise tool was created exclusively for people with Parkinson’s and their supporters. It lets you track your workouts, find PD-friendly exercise classes and meet others in the community—all while learning how certain types of exercises improve symptoms.