Ask an Expert: Do you have skin protection tips for this summer?

Answer by: Kathleen Riggs, Utah State University Cooperative Extension family and consumer sciences agent, Iron County Some people think about sun protection only when they spend a day at the lake, beach or pool. But sun exposure adds up day after day, and it happens every time you are in the sun. According to the American Cancer Society, more than one million people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year, with rates steadily rising, making skin cancer the most common type of cancer in the United States. The major risk factor for developing skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays found in sunlight and tanning bed lamps. The sun gives off energy in the form of radiation. Although we can see sunlight, we can’t see or feel the sun’s UV rays. Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is made of UVA and UVB wavelengths or rays. UVB rays are short, powerful and harmful rays that affect the outer layersof the skin. UVB causes sunburn and produces melanin, which gives people a tan. It also damages DNA in the skin, which causes skin cancer. UVA rays are long rays that penetrate deep into the skin. UVA damages the skin causing wrinkling, sagging and premature aging. It may also have a role in causing skin cancer. With all the bad news, the good news is that skin cancer is one of the most preventable, treatable cancers if found early. “Slip! Slop! Slap! … and Wrap” is a catch phrase developed by the American Cancer Society to remind people of four key methods they can use to protect themselves from UV radiation. Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat and wrap on sunglasses to protect the eyes, and sensitive skin around them, from ultraviolet light. • Slip on a shirt. When you are in the sun, wear clothing to protect as much skin as possible. Clothes provide different levels of protection, depending on many factors. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants or skirts cover the most skin and are the most protective. Dark colors generally provide more protection than light colors. A tightly woven fabric protects better than loosely woven clothing. Dry fabric is generally more protective than wet fabric. If you can see light through a fabric, UV rays can get through too. Be aware that covering up doesn’t block out all UV rays. A typical light T-shirt worn in the summer usually protects you less than sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. • Slop on sunscreen. It is important to remember that sunscreen does not give you total protection. When using an SPF 15 and applying it correctly, you get the equivalent of one minute of UVB rays for each 15 minutes you spend in the sun. So, one hour in the sun wearing SPF 15 sunscreen is the same as spending four minutes with skin unprotected. Naturally, SPF’s as high as 100 are now available and higher numbers mean more protection. However, no sunscreen provides complete protection. Regardless of the SPF, sunscreen should be reapplied about every two hours. • Slap on a hat. A hat with at least a two- to three-inch brim all around is ideal because it protects areas often exposed to the sun such as the neck, ears, eyes, forehead, nose and scalp. A shade cap, which looks like a baseball cap with about seven inches of fabric draping down the sides and back, is also good. These are often sold in sports and outdoor supply stores. • Wrap on sunglasses. Research has shown that long hours in the sun without protecting your eyes can increase your chances of developing eye disease. UV-blocking sunglasses can help protect your eyes from sun damage. The ideal sunglasses don’t have to be expensive, but they should block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB radiation. Check the label for information. If there is no label listing protection, assume the sunglasses provide no protection at all. One final bit of advice from the American Cancer Society is to perform a skin self-examination. Look for changes in color, shape and size of any freckle, mole, blemish or other abnormality on your skin at least once per month, and report changes to your physician. For more information about the causes, prevention and treatment of skin cancer, visit the following websites: American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org), The American Academy of Dermatology (www.aad.org) and Skin Cancer Foundation (www.skincancer.org). ****Direct column topics to Julene Reese, Utah State University Cooperative Extension writer, Logan, Utah, 84322-4900, 435-797-0810, julener@ext.usu.edu.

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