A hand in front of sun rays shows a photo of actinic keratosis.

Protecting Your Hands from the Sun

Last updated: December 2022

My hands are a mess. I don’t mean they are messy, but I can see the effects of the sun every time I look at them: Brown patches and spots are everywhere. I am not particularly comforted when some people refer to them as “age spots”. I am close to 60 now and I am looking for that fountain of youth I used to read about.

Age spots on my hands

Age spots are also called sun spots, liver spots, and also solar lentigines1. They are common in people over 50, although younger folks can get them as well. They are a result of spending a lot of time in the sun, and are not cancerous themselves and don’t require any treatment. They can be treated cosmetically, but here is the thing: The sun exposure you experience that leads to sun spots may have also damaged the skin in ways that do lead to skin cancer elsewhere.

I noticed a reddish lesion

So, back to my hands. As someone who works in the television and film industry, I care about how my hands look. So, when I noticed a reddish lesion popping up, I took action immediately. This didn’t really look like any of the other brownish spots. As always, I began to be concerned and phoned my dermatologist.

I frequently call my dermatologist

It seems that I should have my skin doctor on speed dial because I keep noticing things on my skin and calling him. I made the appointment. After exchanging pleasantries, I showed him the top of my left hand. He said that it could possibly be an actinic keratosis. We agreed that it was better to be safe than sorry, and he froze the spot. It hurt at first, but then the pain subsided and I left.

Post-cryotherapy

The spot has taken a while to heal. My other experiences with cryotherapy were on my face and head and those areas healed quickly. The skin on my hand is different and it's not responding as well. I am confident that it will be fine and camera ready soon. But why my hands?

Showing my age

My hands show more signs of aging than any other place on my body for several reasons. They are almost always exposed to the sun. I can wear long sleeves and hats until I am blue in the face, but unless I am wearing gloves, my hands are out in the open on a daily basis. I will not wear gloves all the time, so my hands will see the sun.

I apply sunscreen, but it only helps for so long

I put sunscreen on the tops of my hands every day. I don’t think this is working for me, though. I wash my hands a lot. I ride the subways in New York City and I am constantly using hand sanitizer to protect me from nasty viruses and bacteria. Whatever sunscreen I apply is constantly being wiped off almost unknowingly.

Wash hands, apply sunscreen

So, what to do? Some of my solar long sleeve shirts with UPF 50 protection have thumb holes that allow fabric to cover the tops of my hands, but I don’t wear those all the time. My strategy is to correlate the act of hand washing with sun screen application in my mind as if it’s actually one action. My hands are not clean until they are sun protected. Protecting my hands from viruses and ultra violet rays go hand in hand (pun intended). I need to develop the habit of doing both, and I know it will take time.

What's your solution for protecting your hands from the sun?

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