By Martha Hunt, MA CAMF
Health Promotion and Wellness
Robert E. Bush Naval Hospital
Warning: exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage your skin! At 93 million miles away we sometimes don’t realize how dangerous the sun can be as far as skin damage that can lead to cancer and damage to our eyes that can lead to cataracts.
Each year, approximately one million skin cancers are detected in the US. Reducing your exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can decrease your risk of skin cancer.
Want to know how you can protect your skin and eyes while still having fun outdoors?
Here are some tips to help protect you and your family from the damaging rays of the sun.
Avoiding the sun during the midday hours provides the best defense against skin cancer. However, if you can’t avoid the midday sun, remember that choosing shade, hats, sunscreen, etc can protect your skin.
Use sunscreen everywhere - not just to the pool or beach. Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, generously apply it 30 minutes before going outdoors and reapply it frequently throughout the day, especially after swimming or exercise. A couple of general tips: avoid sunscreen sprays, pumps and powders because the chemicals in them can be inhaled, and choose products that use the minerals zinc or titanium as their active ingredient because they're the most stable.
Don’t be mislead by the very high SPF numbers found on some sun screens as it can give you a false sense of safety in the sun and causing you to reapply less frequently or stay in the sun for longer periods.
Never put sun screen on babies under six months old as it can be absorbed through their skin!
The best way to protect your baby is to keep them out of the sun completely by keeping them in the shade, wearing hats and baby size sun glasses to protect their delicate eyes.
Read the label before using any sunscreen to be sure there are no toxic chemicals in them such as PABA, retinyl palmitate or oxybenzone as these chemicals have been found to be hazardous. Oxybenzone is an endocrine disrupter (a chemical that can upset the hormone balance in your body) and retinyl palmitate is a form of topical vitamin A that some animal studies suggest may be linked to an increased risk of skin cancer. PABA has also been linked to increasing your risk of skin cancer.
The research group “Environmental Working Group” has compiled a sun screen safety guide that explains which sunscreens have toxic chemicals in them and which sun screens perform the best. That report can be found at http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2011sunscreen/.
Here are more tips to help prevent skin cancer. Seek Shade! Whenever possible, avoid the midday sun when UV rays are the strongest and do the most damage. When you’re outdoors, look for trees, beach umbrellas or tents as good sources of shade.
Use Your Head and wear a Hat! Up to 80 percent of skin cancers occur on the head and neck, so wearing a wide-brimmed hat is a great way to shade your face, ears, scalp, and neck from the sun’s rays. A hat with a four-inch brim provides the most protection. If you choose a baseball cap, also use a sun-screen with an SPF of at least 15 to protect your exposed ears and neck.
Cover up with clothing! A shirt, beach cover-up, or pants with a tight weave are all good choices for cover. A typical T-shirt usually has an SPF that is much lower than the recommended SPF 15 so you will still need sun screen and shade when possible.
Wear sunglasses! Don’t forget to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. Sunglasses protect the tender skin around your eyes and reduce the risk of developing cataracts. Look for sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays. Also, try wrap-around lenses, which keep UV rays from sneaking in at the sides.
Remember that the damage you do to your skin and eyes as a young person never goes away. That tan or sun burn you got as a young person is directly linked to your risk of skin cancer as you get old. Protect yourself now and save yourself the pain of skin cancer later in life.