Be Sun Safe & Sun Smart!

Tuesday Jun. 1st, 2010

Amy Fremier, MS CHES – Health Program Coordinator, Gallatin City-County Health Department, Partner of Cancer Support Community

As you’re participating in outdoor activities, don’t forget your sun protection! According to the American Cancer Society, this year more than one million Americans will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer. It is one of the fastest growing cancers and affects more people than breast, colorectal, prostate and cervical cancer combined. The good news is that most skin cancer is preventable and if detected and treated early has a 95% survival rate. Most skin cancers are caused by too much ultraviolet (UV) rays. Exposure to these rays comes from the sun and manmade sources such as tanning beds.

There are three types of skin cancer which include squamous cell, basal cell and melanoma. The first two types of skin cancer are the most common and are mainly superficial, meaning they haven’t penetrated the deeper layers of the skin like melanoma does. These cancers also have a good prognosis when diagnosed and treated early and are typically found in people age 50 and older. Malignant melanoma is usually in the deeper layers of the skin, is less common, but is more serious and can occur in much younger people.

Ultraviolet light is still out there even on cloudy days and can penetrate glass. The UVA and UVB radiation penetrates the skin and tan skin is a result, but this is a sign of skin damage. Once someone gets a sunburn, severe damage to the skin is done. If you repeatedly get tan or get sunburns, the damage to your skin is cumulative. The risk for skin cancer starts early in life because of more opportunity to multiple exposures to these harmful rays.   This is why it is best to protect your children early from these harmful rays and teach them how to protect themselves as they get older and hopefully they will continue to practice good skin protection into their teen and adult years.

It’s important to protect your children’s skin no matter what time of year it is. If they’re outside, they need to be protected. Below are some tips to keep you and your family protected from the harmful UV rays.

Shade – It’s best to avoid the sunshine during the hours of 10am and 4pm. We know this may be difficult to avoid with busy summer activities, but it’s good to try to find shade during these hours. Remember that UV rays can reflect off surfaces such as snow, sand, water and can also go underneath the water.

Cover Up – Hats and long sleeve shirts are great ways to help protect your skin. When picking out hats for you and your kids, remember a hat with a brim should shade the face, neck and ears. Dark colored shirts are best to wear because they block more of the UV rays from getting to your skin. Don’t forget sunglasses that also block out the UVA & UVB radiation.

Sunscreen – It’s important to apply sunscreen every day to areas of your skin that are not covered up and to make sure it’s at least SPF of 15. If you’re doing an activity in the sun, make sure you reapply the sunscreen at least every 2 hours if not more if you are doing vigorous activities and sweating, or if you’re swimming.

Tanning booths – All tanning booths are harmful to your skin because they also have harmful UVA and UVB rays. It’s a myth that getting a tan first from a tanning booth will protect your skin when you go on vacation.

Self examination – Be sure to check your skin regularly and you children’s. The best time is after a bath or shower and to use a full length mirror and a hand held mirror to check places that are not exposed to the sun. If you do this regularly, you will know what is normal for you and your children and you’ll be able to detect something that is different and have your doctor check it out.

Sources: American Cancer Society
DPHHS Quarterly Surveillance Report; vol 07, #3- Skin Cancer in Montana