Sun's Relentless -- You're Not Even Safe in the Shade
Q: How can we protect ourselves from the sun's UV rays?
A: Avoid sun exposure from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Do not stay in an unshaded spot for long stretches of time. Use a sunscreen of SPF 15 or greater with ingredients that block both UVB and UVA rays. For even greater coverage, look for ingredients such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide (preferably micronized), which are sunblocks.
Use it on all exposed areas and be sure to cover your ears, lips, neck, backs of the legs, hands, feet etc. Reapply at least every two hours. Wear long sleeves and pants. Tightly woven fabrics and darker colors offer more protection because they keep UV rays away. If you can see through a fabric, UV rays can penetrate it. Water makes fabrics more translucent, so don't rely on a wet T-shirt. A wide brimmed hat helps to protect your head and face against skin cancer. Caps and visors are not as protective. Seek the shade. UV-blocking glasses help protect the eyes from skin cancer and cataracts/macular degeneration later on in life.
Q: How often should we use sunscreen?
A: One should wear sunscreen daily. We drive and get UV rays through window glass. We walk our dogs, garden and walk outside.
Q: How long should we wait between applying sunscreen and heading outdoors?
A: It's best to apply sunscreen at least 20 to 30 minutes before going outdoors. Most people wait until they get to the beach to put it on and they don't re-apply it after coming out of the water.
Q: If most of our time is spent in the shade, are we safe?
A: Be aware that sunlight bouncing off reflective surfaces can reach you even beneath a tree or an umbrella.
Q: Are any ethnic groups more or less susceptible to sun damage than others?
A: People with fair skin; blond, red or light brown hair; and blue green or gray eyes have a greater risk of getting skin cancer. Also at higher risk are people with freckles and those who burn before tanning or burn and then don't tan.
Anyone who has spent much time outdoors at leisure or on the job is also at risk. Anyone with a history of skin cancer has a greater risk of getting it again. Darker ethnic groups have a lower incidence of skin cancer but are not immune from melanoma.
Q: How prevalent is skin cancer?
A: About one in 41 people are at risk for developing melanoma. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common skin cancer with more than 200,000 new cases each year. One out of five people will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. One person dies every hour from skin cancer, primarily malignant melanoma.
Q: Are there any clothing brands designed to protect from UV rays?
A: Sun Precautions Co. (www.sunprecautions.com), Coolibar (www.coolibar.com) and SunSafe (www.sunsafe.com) make sun protective clothing.
Q: Is tanning dangerous?
A: There is no such thing as a healthy tan. A tan is the skin's response to the sun's damaging rays. In tanning parlors, the UV radiation is far more dangerous than natural sunlight and it increases your risk of melanoma.
Q: What are the symptoms of skin cancer?
A: It can be flat or raised; crusted, smooth or scaly. It can look like a sore that never heals and grows over time. It can present as a pimple that just never goes away. It can be tender or asymptomatic. It can present as a new mole or an old mole changing shape, color or size. Any change or new growth should be evaluated by your dermatologist. Skin cancers can also develop in places you can't see, like the scalp, behind the legs, between the toes and in private areas. This is one reason why it's important to have a comprehensive full body exam yearly.
Q: We do need some sunshine for vitamin D, don't we?
A: People who practice proper sun protection and are concerned that they are not getting enough vitamin D should either take a multivitamin or drink a few glasses of Vitamin D fortified milk (skim milk to avoid all the fat) a day.
Q: What are the signs of sun damage?
A: Brown spots, diffuse hyperpigmentation, scaly precancerous rough blotches on the skin, reddish faces with broken capillaries and pink-brown discoloration, wrinkles and leathery texture.
Q: Besides skin cancer and sun damage, is there anything else we should be concerned about?
A: The sun's UV rays can suppress the immune system, which is important to protect the body from infection, disease and other forms of cancer. The Department of Health and Human services recently declared UV rays by the sun a known carcinogen.
Q: Tell me about the Fraxel Laser.
A: The Fraxel Laser is a very new and innovative treatment. Skin becomes softer, fine lines begin to fade as well as uneven brown spots. Multiple treatments are necessary and the laser treatment can be expensive. It can be somewhat painful and may not be suitable for people with darker complexions because of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. It is also not widely available as it was just released a few months ago. Less expensive, yet effective, treatments include microdermabrasions, chemical peels, Gentle Waves/LED treatments, IPL and laser rejuvenation.
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