A Healthier Tomorrow – July 2018

A Healthier Tomorrow – Summer Health Tips – Sun safety

Imagine a Healthier Tomorrow

By Alison H. Page

What a great 4th of July week!  I am sure most of you got outside to enjoy the warmth and sunshine.

Sunshine can be good for you.  It cheers you up and raises your vitamin D levels, which has multiple health benefits. 

But, the sun can also be damaging to your health.  Exposure to the sun is the leading cause of skin cancer.  About 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and about 86 percent of melanomas are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is part of the electromagnetic (light) spectrum that reaches the earth from the sun. It has wavelengths shorter than visible light, making it invisible to the naked eye. Ultraviolet A (UVA) is the longer wave UV ray that causes lasting skin damage, skin aging, and can cause skin cancer. Ultraviolet B (UVB) is the shorter wave UV ray that causes sunburns, skin damage, and can cause skin cancer.

Follow these recommendations to help protect yourself and your family:

Find the shadeYou can reduce your risk of skin damage and skin cancer by seeking shade under an umbrella, tree, or other shelter before, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM, when sunlight is the most intense.

Wear the right clothesWhen possible, long-sleeved shirts and long pants and skirts can provide protection from UV rays. Clothes made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection. A wet T-shirt offers much less UV protection than a dry one, and darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors. Some clothing certified under international standards comes with information on its ultraviolet protection factor.

If wearing this type of clothing isn’t practical, at least try to wear a T-shirt or a beach cover-up. Keep in mind that a typical T-shirt has an SPF rating lower than 15, so use other types of protection as well.

Grab a hatFor the most protection, wear a hat with a three inch brim that shades your face, ears, and the back of your neck. A tightly woven fabric, such as canvas, works best to protect your skin from UV rays. Avoid straw hats with holes that let sunlight through. A darker hat may offer more UV protection.

Don’t forget the shadesSunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the tender skin around your eyes from sun exposure.

Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection. Most sunglasses sold in the United States, regardless of cost, meet this standard. Wrap-around sunglasses work best because they block UV rays from sneaking in from the side.

Wear sunscreen –  Put on broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15 before you go outside, even on slightly cloudy or cool days. Don’t forget to put a thick layer on all parts of exposed skin. Get help for hard-to-reach places like your back. And remember, sunscreen works best when combined with other options to prevent UV damage.

Some facts you should know about sunscreen:

How sunscreen works Most sunscreen products work by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering sunlight. They contain chemicals that interact with the skin to protect it from UV rays. All products do not have the same ingredients; if your skin reacts badly to one product, try another one or call a doctor.

Sun Protection Factor – SPF is a measure of a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB from damaging the skin. Here’s how it works: If it takes 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red, using an SPF 15 sunscreen theoretically prevents reddening 15 times longer – about five hours. Higher numbers indicate more protection.

Broad-spectrum sunscreens protect the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. You should use a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15.

Reapplication – Sunscreen wears off. Put it on again if you stay out in the sun for more than two hours and after swimming, sweating, or toweling off.

Expiration date – Check the sunscreen’s expiration date. Sunscreen without an expiration date has a shelf life of no more than three years, but its shelf life is shorter if it has been exposed to high temperatures.

Cosmetics – Some makeup and lip balms contain some of the same chemicals used in sunscreens. If they do not have at least SPF 15, don’t use them by themselves.

Are you confused by all the sunscreen options and ingredients? From information about water resistant sunscreens to SPF 50 to broad spectrum protection, The Skin Cancer Foundation has you covered at https://www.skincancer.org/.

So, get out and enjoy the summer sun.  But, do it safely. 

I invite you to join the dialogue.  Please contact me with your ideas or questions that can be addressed in future columns.  I can be reached at 715-684-1100 or alison.page@wwhealth.org.