Play it sun smart: Keep you skin safe this summer

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Summertime brings trips to the beach and lake, gardening, dips in the pool, picnicking – all sorts of activities that having us soaking up the sun.

These days, we know all that sun exposure is not the best thing for our wellbeing. Dermatologists tell us there is no such thing as a &uot;healthy&uot; tan, and caution against both sunbathing and tanning beds.

While incidences of most cancers are dropping, the number of skin cancer cases continues to grow. The risk of skin cancer increases with age, with the fastest growing group those over the age of 50.

However, more and more people under the age of 40 are being diagnosed with skin cancer; it is one of the few cancers frequently found in people in their 20s and 30s.

Each year, more than 1.5 million Americans learn they have nonmelanoma skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in five Americans and one in three Caucasians will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime. While it is less common for blacks, Latinos and Asians, skin cancer is more deadly among these populations.

There are new cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year than the combined incidences of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon.

Each hour, one person dies of skin cancer, primarily melanoma.

Why the rise?

What is causing this rise in skin cancer, when there is so much information on the dangers of sun exposure?

According to Skin Cancer Net, research indicates there are several causes for the rise in cases:

n Tanning bed use. Young women, who tend to use tanning beds more frequently than young men, have an increased risk of developing nonmelanoma skin cancer with tanning bed use. Most tanning salons use bulbs in their tanning beds that emit a significant amount of Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. UV rays are the primary cause of skin cancer.

n More time tanning. Studies show younger patients tend to develop more nonmelanoma skin cancers on their torsos rather than their heads and necks, indicating they probably spend more time outdoors tanning. Increased use of tanning beds also may be contributing to rise of such cancers on patients’ torsos.

n Intense intermittent sun exposure. Did you overdose on the tropical sun on your last Caribbean cruise? Get a nasty burn sitting outside for hours at the stock car races? Researchers suspect short, but intense, exposure to the sun without proper sun protection – particularly in people younger than 40 – is a known risk factor for nonmelanoma skin cancer.

n Less ability to repair damage caused by exposure to UV rays. The sun’s rays and indoor tanning beds emit UV light. We may not feel or see these rays when they hit our bodies, but it still damages our DNA.

The human body can repair this damage; however, with repeated exposure the damage can end up outpacing repair. Research indicates younger patients who are developing skin cancer may have less capacity to repair their damaged DNA.

n Smoking. Tobacco use – particularly cigarette and pipe smoking – is a known risk factor for skin cancer.

n Ozone depletion. Yep, there’s a hole in the ozone layer – and it’s getter bigger every year. That means more and more UVB light is reaching us. UVB light is known to cause both nonmelanoma skin cancer and melanoma.

n Growing awareness. Since there is much greater public awareness of skin cancer, more people seem to be going to the doctor and getting diagnosed than in past decades.

According to the American Cancer Society, those at greatest risk of skin cancer include people with fair skin, freckling and red or blond hair, and those with a strong history of family melanoma.

People who have been treated with immune suppressants, and those who have a past history of melanoma are at higher risk. Those with a large number of moles (benign skin tumors) also have an increased risk of melanoma.

An ounce of preventionŠ

You can still enjoy the great outdoors – you just need to play it smart and safe. Regardless of your age and risk factors, most skin cancer can be prevented by practicing proper sun protection. Here’s how to be sun safe:

n Slather on the sunscreen. Use sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of no less than 15. It should be a broad-spectrum formula that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

Put it on at least 30 minutes before going outdoors; parents, be sure to put sunscreen on the little ones. Many cases of adult skin cancer stem from bad sunburns traced back to childhood.

Even if it says the product is &uot;waterproof&uot; and &uot;sweatproof,&uot; be sure and reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating. And don’t let those cloudy skies fool you; you can still get a sunburn, even when there isn’t much sun. Don’t forget ears, hands, nose, lips and the area around the eyes.

n Seek the shade. Avoid the sun at its most intense, which is between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

n Slip on those shades. Protect your eyes from sun exposure, too. Look for gray or brown lenses with UVA-UVB protection.

n Leave your hat on.

Broad-brimmed hats, rather than baseball caps, provide additional sun protection. Wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and pants when possible.

n Check out your birthday suit on your birthday. If you notice any changes, growths, or bleeding on your skin, including your scalp, see a dermatologist. Skin cancer, when caught early, is very treatable.

Fake a tan

If you still want that sun-kissed look, there are plenty of products on the market in a range of formulas and prices that allow you to self-tan (and, unlike the self-tanners of past generations, don’t turn you pumpkin orange).

In Greenville, CVS, Fred’s and Wal-Mart all carry self-tanning products.

Just remember, you will also need a sunscreen for protection. Fortunately, some of the newest products, such as Olay’s Touch of Sun facial tanner and Neutrogena’s Summer Glow for the body, have sunscreens of SPF 15 or higher in their formulas.

So be smart and have fun this summer.