Here comes the sun…
Summertime means–for many of us–more time outdoors in the sun, whether it be a vacation at the beach, walking along a country road, or working on our lawns and gardens. It also means thinking about skin cancer prevention-which is much more than using gobs of sunscreen to protect yourself from getting burned in the sun.
This Friday is “Don’t Fry Day”, sponsored by the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention along with a number of collaborating organizations (including the American Cancer Society). “Don’t Fry Day” is designed to remind people that it’s ok to have fun in the sun, so long as you pay attention to your skin while enjoying the great outdoors.
Being sun-safe isn’t all that difficult. It’s really a matter of remembering a few simple rules, including the real role that sunscreen plays in sun-safe behavior: [more]
1) If you are going to be outside in the sun, remember that the sun’s rays are most powerful between the hours of 10am and 4PM. And, if you are going to be outside, it is preferable to seek the shade, such as lounging on the beach under an umbrella (or our favorite: what we call a Tiki hut).
2) Cover up as much as possible: long sleeve shirts are a good bet, especially with the new, light, sun safe fabrics. That provides an option that we didn’t have before. And for little kiddies, that maybe a wonderful idea.
3) Put on a hat–a wide brimmed hat is best. Baseball hats are sort of ok but not really, since they leave the back of your neck and your ears exposed to the sun.
4) UV sunglasses are important as well. We have known for some time that exposure of the eyes to the sun causes premature aging of the cornea, just like it causes premature aging of the skin.
5) Checking the UV index regularly to find out how strong the sun’s rays will be where you are on a particular day is another good idea. Check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s website for that information (many other websites, such as Accuweather, are also promoting the UV index). Other countries such as Australia have long used the UV index to inform the public of the risk of sun exposure, and it’s time we learned more about that here in the United States.
6) Now here’s the surprise. Sunscreen is definitely an important part of sun-safe behavior. But you may note that I have left it to last on this list. Why? Because too many people have too much faith in sunscreen. Yes, it can prevent sunburns when used properly. But it is the “used properly” part that has many of us concerned. “Used properly” means an SPF of at least 15 (some experts recommend an SPF of 30 or higher). “Used properly” also means putting on lots and lots and lots of the goopy stuff–all over your body. “Used properly” means putting it on every 2 hours–come sun or clouds. “Used properly” means putting it on frequently if you go swimming or become sweaty after playing beach volleyball or another sport.
Sunscreen doesn’t last forever, yet some people believe it does. And high SPFs really don’t make you immune from the sun’s rays for a longer time, nor do they add as much protection as some people think they do.
Survey after survey shows that people who rely solely on sunscreen to protect them from the damaging effects of the sun apply too little, and believe that high SPFs mean they can stay in the sun for much longer periods of time..
You might want to say, “Say it isn’t so…”, but sunscreen although safe and effective when used as directed more often than not is not used as directed.
The sad result is that some research shows that people who rely on sunscreen may in fact have higher rates of skin cancer, in part due to the fact that they probably didn’t follow the sunscreen rules outlined above about how to use sunscreen properly
Another sunscreen tip: use a broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) to prevent damage from both kinds of harmful rays of the sun.
And yes, although there is chatter about possible problems with some of the chemicals in sunscreen, most agree that based on currently available scientific evidence the benefits of sunscreen outweigh the risks. Research continues to answer concerns regarding sunscreen formulas, but for now they are a much better bet than taking the risk of getting burned in the sun.
Getting a burn is a bad thing folks. So is a tan. Everyone knows that sunburn is bad, and a sign of toxic effects of the sun on the skin. But tanning is also a sign of sun damage. Forget the thought that a healthy tan is a sign of good health. It isn’t. And there is no such thing as a healthy tan. It isn’t healthy. Period.
I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon or “Dr. No Fun.” I assure you I am not. I do want you to enjoy yourself, use the outdoors as part of your healthy lifestyle, and always remember that there are ways to do that safely and responsibly.
Two million people in this country every year are diagnosed with 3 million skin cancers, and 70,230 of those are diagnosed with melanoma, a more aggressive form of skin cancer whose incidence has been rising for at least 30 years. This year, 8,790 people in the U.S. are expected to die from melanoma.
We can’t prevent every skin cancer and we can’t prevent every melanoma. But research continues to show that if we just applied a little bit of common sense and took some simple precautions, we could avoid problems with skin cancer later in our lives.
So this Friday, think about Don’t Fry Day and what it means. Learn more about what you can do to protect yourself by getting information on the American Cancer Society website and the “Don’t Fry Day” section of the National Council for Skin Cancer Prevention’s website. Lot’s of good information, and easy to follow suggestions to help you enjoy your summer and make the most of your time in the sun.
PS: You may also want to look at some videos we did with Accuweather on sun safety, as well as a discussion of the UV index on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website. All are good resources to help you learn what you need to know about sun safety.