Monday, June 23, 2014

Sunscreen Complements Every Outfit!

    Summer has officially arrived, and we all enjoy being outside for fun in the sun ... swimming and sports, picnics and BBQs, gardening, etc. No question about it: the sun's rays make us feel good. Recent studies have even shown that we can become addicted to UV radiation. 

    But too much of a good thing is ... well, never a good thing. It is important to understand sun safety and how to protect your skin and possibly save your life or that of a loved one. I know, I know ... we all think we know the rules. We've heard them before. But they are constantly changing, and as I was researching the facts for this blog, I even learned some new things. So pay attention, just for a minute -- there will be a quiz (not really, but pay attention anyway)!

    What Is UV Radiation?

    The main source of ultraviolet radiation (UV rays) is the sun, but it can also come from man-made sources like tanning beds.

    According to the Amercian Cancer Society, scientists divide UV radiation into three wavelength ranges:
    • UVA rays are the weakest of the UV rays. They can cause skin cells to age and can cause some indirect damage to cells’ DNA. UVA rays are mainly linked to long-term skin damage such as wrinkles but are also thought to play a role in some skin cancers.
    • UVB rays are slightly stronger. They are mainly responsible for direct damage to the DNA and are the rays that cause sunburns. They are also thought to cause most skin cancers.
    • UVC rays are the strongest UV rays. Fortunately, they react with ozone high in our atmosphere and do not reach the ground. Therefore UVC rays are not present in sunlight and are not normally a risk factor for skin cancer. But they can be found in some man-made sources, such as arc welding torches and mercury lamps. In the past, sunbeds were also a source of UVC rays.

    Why Should This Be Important to You?

    More than 3.5 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year. It is the most common form of cancer in the US. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more than 90% of all non-melanoma skin cancers and 65% of melanomas are a direct result of exposure to UV radiation and could have been prevented. (See my blog Every Day Should Be Melanoma Awareness Day for more information about melanoma, the deadly form of skin cancer that took my daughter Jaime's life when she was only 29.) 

    Besides skin cancer, UV exposure can cause wrinkles, sagging, and premature aging of the skin; skin discoloration; dilation of small blood vessels under the skin; benign tumors; immune system suppression; cataracts and other eye problems impairing vision; rash or allergic reaction; and even infections and reactivation of herpes. 

    What Can You Do to Protect Your Skin?

    • Avoid excessive sun exposure, especially between the hours of 10am - 2pm. Remember that water, snow, cement, and sand reflect damaging UV rays to increase your chances of sunburn. UV rays can also go through windows and clothing and reach below the water's surface.

    • Seek shade when your shadow is shorter than you are. "Watch your shadow -- Short shadow, seek shade."

    Use Sunscreen  

    • Apply sunscreen with a broad-spectrum (with both UVA and UVB protection) sun-protective factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. No sunscreen blocks out all the UV rays, but they do protect you from them. There has been much controversy over the past few years about toxic chemicals in sunscreen. Weigh the pros and cons of the various brands ... but pick one you are comfortable with and USE it.  
    • Apply 1 oz (a shotglass full) sunscreen 15-30 minutes before going out. Do not apply to palms and rub together but instead squeeze a line of sunscreen on an area of your body and rub it in ... and then repeat. It is best to apply before putting on your bathing suit to protect the skin underneath and to avoid missing the areas around the edges of the suit. Also apply sunscreen before insect repellant or makeup. Reapply every 2 hours, even if it's cloudy (UV rays travel through clouds), or more often after swimming or sweating. The biggest problem with sunscreen is not applying enough ... so use a heavy hand!
    • Do not consider sunscreen to be waterproof or sweatproof, but it can be water resistant, meaning it will stay on longer when you are in the water or sweating. It still must be reapplied when you towel off.
    • Check the expiration date on your sunscreen. It is usually effective for 2-3 years, less if exposed to high temperatures. Be sure to shake it up good to remix the ingredients. And if it has expired and no longer effective as a sunscreen, Real Simple Magazine suggests using the leftovers as shave cream!

    • Don't neglect high-risk areas of your body: eyelids, back of neck, tops of feet, ears, calves, back, and scalp are areas most missed with sunscreen. Lip protectors with a minimum of SPF15 should also be applied.
    • Spray sunscreen is not recommended because of breathing in the mist and poor coverage. It can also be flammable.

    • Keep babies under 6 months old out of the sun, says the American Academy of Pediatrics. When they are older than 6 months, you can use sunscreen on them but pay particular attention to tender young skin exposed to the sun. Sunburns in children put them in the high risk bracket for melanoma.

    Other Forms of Sun Protection

    • Clothes do not block out all UV rays. If you can see light through the fabric, then UV rays are getting through it. Dark colored, tight weave fabrics are best. Special sun protective clothing is also available.

    • Sunglasses should be labeled to block 99-100% of UVA and UVB rays, and most sold in the US meet these standards. Large-framed or wraparound types are best because they keep protect the eyes from light coming from different directions. UV-blocking contact lenses are not sufficient to protect the entire eye from UV rays. Toy sunglasses for children are a NO-NO; they need smaller versions of the protective adult kind. 
    • Hats should have a minimum 2-3 inch brim all the way around. Baseball caps only protect the front and top of the head so are not effective for sun protection. Straw hats are also not protective because of their loose weave.
    • Beach umbrellas do not block all UV rays, usually only providing a protection factor of 30.

    • Check the UV Index ( Special care needs to be taken when the UV Index predicts exposure levels above moderate.

    • Examine your skin often and take note of any changing or new moles.

    • NEVER, never, never use indoor tanning beds or sunlamps. According to the World Health Organization, ultraviolet radiation is a proven human carcinogen. First exposure to tanning beds before age 30 increases melanoma risk by 75%. Of the 28 million people using tanning beds in US each year, 2.3 million are teens. 

    Bottom line: Remember to Slip! Slop! Slap! Wrap!: Slip on clothing, slop on sunscreen, slap on a wide-brimmed hat, and wrap on sunglasses. Protect your skin and that of your loved ones ... and enjoy this summer and many more to come! Matter of fact, don't just follow these rules in the summer. Continue to practice sun safety all year around!

     Melanoma Mama (Jaime's mom, Donna)

    Twitter: @melanoma_mama
    Facebook: (Remember Jaime) (Pull the Plug on Tanning Beds)
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