Hi, everybody! Happy summer! This week I had a special reader request. Before you all head off to play in the sun, I’d like to review 4 sun safety tips to protect your skin from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.
Before you accuse me of being a party pooper, remember I live in northern Ohio! I like a bright sunny summer day as much as the next person 🙂 However, I know that sun exposure (and in particular sunburn) is a major risk factor for the development of skin cancer.
Here are some links if you’re interested in more background information:
- CDC: Melanoma skin cancer incidence by state
- Scary melanoma facts from skincancer.org
- Good skin cancer info from the American Cancer Society
So how can we protect our skin? There are a number of things to do. Stay out of the sun during peak intensity, cover up, wear sunscreen, and take vitamin D.
1. Stay out of the sun during the times of peak sun intensity. Typically this is from 10 AM to 3 PM every day. This goes for cloudy days too! Interestingly enough, the states with the highest risk of skin cancer include Washington and Oregon. Cloud central, right? While nobody really knows why, it’s suspected that people there underestimate their exposure because of the cloud cover, and don’t wear sunscreen as regularly as those who live in sunnier places.
2. Cover up! Wear a lightweight long-sleeved shirt and long pants, and a wide-brimmed hat. There’s a big hat-wearing culture shift that has happened in Australia due to the high risk of skin cancer there.
3. If you can’t cover up, wear a waterproof sunscreen, at least SPF 15, and reapply it often. There has been recent controversy about the UV-blocking ingredients in sunscreen causing endocrine problems and actually increasing skin cancer rates. I did a PubMed search (the NIH’s database of ALL published scientific research) and found no studies at all documenting increased cancer risk in those that use sunscreen. My family and I use Shaklee’s Enfuselle SPF 30.
4. Take vitamin D! In northern Ohio we don’t get enough direct sunlight in winter to make vitamin D in our skin, and almost everyone is deficient. There is evidence that vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of sunburn. If you’re not sure you’re getting enough vitamin D (it’s estimated that we need about 1500 units daily, on average) ask your doctor for a blood test. Bet you can guess which vitamin D product we use!
I want to take a minute to talk about tanning beds. They are incredibly dangerous from a skin cancer standpoint. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies tanning beds as carcinogenic. Melanoma risk increases by 75% when tanning bed use occurs before age 35. This is really disturbing when you think how common tanning bed use is in teenage girls.
Lastly I would like to comment on the cumulative nature of skin damage from sun exposure. It builds up over time. Many people think that sunscreen isn’t effective to reduce skin cancer risk because the incidence of skin cancer is still going up in spite of the heavy push to use sunscreen. Well it’s only been in the last 20 years or so that sunscreen use has been on the rise. I’m in my 40s and when I was a kid nobody used sunscreen. You burned at the beginning of the summer, “got your base tan” and then happily played in the sun all summer long. The most dangerous time to get a sunburn is when you are a child. Those of you with children out there, please protect them from sunburn. Not only is it unnecessary and uncomfortable, it will increase their risk of a preventable cancer later in their lives.