I love the feel of the warm sun on my skin. I also love getting a healthy looking glow on my pale skin. Many of us do. The sun has many nourishing qualities as well as some harmful consequences. We have to learn to play it safe in the sun to reap the benefits without acquiring the dangerous and sometimes deadly effects. Here is what you need to know.
I was talking to a group of friends over the weekend while spending lots of time outdoors and I was shocked that the majority of men think that sun protection is unnecessary. Then there were the conversations and jokes about the women nagging the men and kids to use sunblock. While I was unnerved, I knew that this can be a typical representation of the majority of people.
Even in my own home we have the battle of me being vigilant with my son to be protected and my husband giving him conflicting messages like sunburns being a good sign that a tan is trying to happen. (Yeeesh!) With skin cancer being the number one form of cancer in the United States, I felt compelled enough to write about this issue hoping that the more correct information gets circulated, the more sun care will be a normal part of life. Wearing sunblock should be as ordinary as wearing deodorant, not a debatable subject. The clearly dangerous consequences of sun exposure are 100% real and 100% preventable.
I was born and raised in Arizona where the desert sun blazes year round. I did not move to Chicago until I was in my 30’s so I had many years to soak up the sun’s rays. I have known many people close to me who have had skin cancer. I have a patch of skin cancer on my shoulder that while not deadly, is spreading fast when fed by the sun and must be removed with elective (out of pocket) surgeries.
I also have a growth in my eye that is a direct consequence of sun damage. This too is not deadly but will require an elective operation as it grows and affects my eyesight. I am in my 40’s now and blessed to live in a time where we have the knowledge, and the scientific advances to protect ourselves and our children. When I was growing up the only products I remember associated with the sun were tanning oils to get darker. Being fair skinned and blonde made me prone to constant sunburns which I learned to live with as a part of life. I am grateful that my own children did not have to endure the pain and the dangerous radiation like I did so long ago. I feel relieved that I have provided them with protection from the sun that drastically reduces their chances of becoming a statistic later in life.
Here is how it works:
UV rays come from the sun and are a form of radiation.
There are two types of UV rays, UVA and UVB.
- Penetrate deep into the skin
- Penetrate through clouds and glass
- Are radiating at the same intensity throughout the day
- Creates the tan in skin
- Cause premature aging and sun damage
- Causes and initiates skin cancer (esp. basal cell carcinoma )
- Are the main cause of sunburn
- Varies in intensity throughout the day
- Do not penetrate glass
- Cause sun damage and premature aging
- Responsible for the development of skin cancer
Over one million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. As much as 90% of non-melanoma cancer and about 60% of melanoma cancer are linked to skin cancer from the sun. Pediatric skin cancer is on the rise at a rate of approximately 3% each year.
How to Get Proper Sun Protection
- Use a sunblock with a minimum of 15 SPF during any sun exposure
- Apply sunblock to exposed areas of the skin
- Apply sunblock 20 minutes before going into the sun
- Apply sunblock every few hours and earlier if sweating or getting wet
- Apply sunblock to children, babies and all ages of adults
- Purchase clothing that has UV protection and/or cover up as much as possible
- Wear sunglasses with UV protection and hats with brims that protect the eyes and face
- Stay out of the sun when the UV rays are most intense (a UV guide can be found along with the weather and is most intense between 10 am and 4 pm)
Sun protection and skin cancer prevention should not be a battle of the sexes issue, or one that is up for debate. This should be a no brainer. Let’s all get into the habit of saving lives, being healthy and living responsibly. Enjoy your fun in the sun!
TIP: Some people believe that if you have a 15 SPF sunblock on and you add a 25 SPF that your protection increases to 35. This is FALSE. Your sunblock is only as good as the highest number that you apply at any time.
* There is no evidence to show that any sunscreens protect against melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) although sunburns have been directly linked and can be prevented with sunblock. Other forms of skin cancer can be prevented with regular use of sunscreen.