With the warm weather finally here, many of us are thinking of ways to have fun in the sun this summer. However, it is important to remember that we all need to protect ourselves from the sun’s harmful rays. After seeing one of my friends turn lobster-red after spending a day on the lake this past Memorial Day weekend, I felt inspired to write about the importance of protecting our selves and our families from the sun.
We have long known that exposure to the sun can have harmful effects ranging from premature aging of the skin to forms of cancer. Skin cancers are the most common type of cancer in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Melanoma, a form of skin cancer, affects roughly 45,000 people and claims the lives of about 8,000 people in the United States each year. In order to address the problem, we must look at the way that we perceive sunburns and other sun damage to the skin and realize that just “one burn” cannot only ruin your day but also greatly jeopardize your health down the road.
Sunburnsand other sun damage are not a part of summer that should be acceptable. They are all too common in our society and need to be considered a risk to our health. The CDC notes that recent surveys have shown that 34% of adults and 69% of adolescents have reported sunburns within the last year. Children are especially at risk according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. They state that just one blistering sunburn in childhood can more than double their chances of developing melanoma later in life.
The good news is, protecting ourselves and children is relatively easy. The CDC outlines several strategies that people should take that help to greatly reduce the risk of skin cancer, including; (1) seeking shade during midday hours when the sun is at its strongest (in between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.), (2) wearing clothing to protect skin (dry clothing protects skin better than wet clothing), (3) wearing hats with wide brims to protect the face, ears, and neck, (4) wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher that has both UVA and UVB protection, and (5) avoiding indoor tanning.
Most of us realize that applying sunscreen is an excellent way of protecting our skin from sun damage. But it is important to remember a few key facts before you apply sunscreen this summer. The sun can cause damage to the skin in fifteen minutes, for the best protection sunscreen should be applied in a thick layer to all exposed skin before heading outdoors. It is not only important to apply sunscreen before heading outside, but also to remember to reapply after being outdoors if you have been outside for longer than two hours. Sunscreen can wear off especially if you are swimming or sweating. Finally, it is also important to check the expiration dates on sunscreens before relying on them for sun protection. Sunscreens typically have a shelf life of no longer than three years, but their usefulness can be significantly shortened if exposed to high temperatures.
Protection is key in the prevention of skin cancers, especially melanoma. Take the time in the next few weeks to ensure that your family is ready for fun in the sun this summer without fear of having to endure a sunburn. For more information on skin cancer prevention visit the CDC’s dedicated page at www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/ or take a look at the Skin Cancer Foundations website at www.skincancer.org.