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Protect Your Skin This Summer

July 12, 2007

While sunlight is great for many things, the sun also provides ultraviolet rays, which are known to cause skin cancer.  Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States.  In fact, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.  This year alone, more than one million people in our country will be diagnosed with skin cancer, and while most kinds are curable, treating them can leave noticeable scars on the body.   


Scarring isn’t the only damage that the sun can cause.  Melanoma is a more serious form of skin cancer related to sun damage, and is far less curable.  Unfortunately, melanoma is more common than you may think.  Approximately 59,940 melanomas will be diagnosed this year, with over 8,000 resulting in death.  In fact, almost twenty people die each day from skin cancer, primarily melanoma.


However, there are several preventive measures that we can all take to help reduce the risk of developing skin cancer.   Nowadays because there is so much misinformation about sun protection, it is important to be aware of a few tips to help keep your skin healthy and safe this summer. 


The best way to protect yourself is by staying out of the sun as much as possible, and do your best to avoid getting a sunburn.  A person's risk for skin cancer doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns.  If you do have to be out in the sun, try to do so in short intervals, rather than long stretches of time.  Seek the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.


If you are in the sun, the best way to protect yourself is by wearing sunscreen.  However, wearing sunscreen does not make us invincible, especially if sunscreen is not used properly.  Proper sunscreen application, or “slathering,” is using one ounce (or two tablespoons) of a product on an average body wearing an average bathing suit.  Dermatologists recommend the routine daily use of a sunscreen with an S.P.F. rating of 15 or higher on all exposed areas.  For sunscreen to be effective, it should be applied about 30 minutes before going out in the sun, and should be reapplied every two hours, possibly sooner if you’ve been swimming or sweating.


A common myth is that clothing protects against UV rays, but this is not entirely true.  A regular cotton T-shirt, no matter what color it is, has an SPF of 8.  If the shirt gets wet, the SPF drops to around 4.  Luckily, the popularity of sun protective clothing has grown substantially over the past few years.  This clothing usually has a sun protection factor of 30 or higher and it keeps its SPF even if it's wet.  For additional clothing protection, a laundry additive, Sun Guard, contains the  sunscreen TinosorbFD.  When added to a detergent, it increases the protection and lasts through 20 washings.


Another way to avoid skin cancer is by avoiding the tanning bed.  Even occasional use of tanning beds almost triples the chances of developing melanoma.  Tanning beds are the most dangerous for those who use them most—young people.  Exposure to tanning beds before age 35 increases melanoma risk by 75 percent.


By practicing some of these tips, you can make sure that you enjoy all the benefits of the sun, while keeping your skin healthy for many years. Enjoy your summer, and if you have to be out in those harmful UV rays remember to slather up before you head out.  Your skin will definitely thank you for it.