U.S. environmental protection agency
While the sun provides warmth for summer fun, it also provides Ultraviolet rays that can cause damage to the skin. Sometimes this damage goes unnoticed and years and years of exposure to the sun can cause long-term skin health problems.
Each year, more new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. than new cases of breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancer combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. One American dies from skin cancer every hour. Unprotected exposure to UV radiation is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer.
Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is now one of the most common cancers among adolescents and young adults ages 15-29. While melanoma accounts for about three percent of skin cancer cases, it causes more than 75 percent of skin cancer deaths. UV exposure and sunburns, particularly during childhood, are risk factors for the disease. Not all mela-nomas are exclusively sun-related — other possible influences include genetic factors and immune system deficiencies.
Non-melanoma Skin Cancers
Non-melanoma skin cancers are less deadly than melanomas. Nevertheless, they can spread if left untreated, causing disfigurement and more serious health problems. There are two primary types of non-melanoma skin cancers: basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. If caught and treated early, these two cancers are rarely fatal.
Basal Cell Carcinomas are the most common type of skin cancer tumors. They usually appear as small, fleshy bumps or nodules on the head and neck, but can occur on other skin areas. Basal cell carcinoma grows slowly, and it rarely spreads to other parts of the body. It can, however, penetrate to the bone and cause considerable damage.
Squamous Cell Carcinomas are tumors that may appear as nodules or as red, scaly patches. This cancer can develop into large masses, and unlike basal cell carcinoma, it can spread to other parts of the body.
Other Skin Damage
Other UV-related skin disorders include actinic keratoses and pre-mature aging of the skin. Actinic keratoses are skin growths that occur on body areas exposed to the sun. The face, hands, forearms, and the “V” of the neck are especially susceptible to this type of lesion. Although pre-malignant, actinic keratoses are a risk factor for squamous cell carcinoma. Look for raised, reddish, rough-textured growths and seek prompt medical attention if you discover them.
Chronic exposure to the sun also causes premature aging, which over time can make the skin become thick, wrinkled, and leathery. Since it occurs gradually, often manifesting itself many years after the majority of a person’s sun exposure, premature aging is often regarded as an unavoidable, normal part of growing older. However, up to 90 percent of the visible skin changes commonly attributed to aging are caused by the sun. With proper protection from UV radiation, most premature aging of the skin can be avoided.
Scientists have found that over-exposure to UV radiation may suppress proper functioning of the body’s immune system and the skin’s natural defenses. For example, the skin normally mounts a defense against foreign invaders such as cancers and infections. But overexposure to UV radiation can weaken the immune system, reducing the skin’s ability to protect against these invaders.
How to protect yourself
According to the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the following tips can help prevent these long term effects by reducing your exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays.
Cover up. Wear tightly-woven clothing that blocks out light. Try this test: Place your hand between a single layer of the clothing and a light source. If you can see your hand through the fabric, the garment offers little protection.
Use sunscreen. A sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 blocks 93 percent of UV rays. You want to block both UVA and UVB rays to guard against skin cancer. Be sure to follow application directions on the bottle.
Wear a hat. A wide brim hat (not a baseball cap) is ideal because it protects the neck, ears, eyes, forehead, nose, and scalp.
Wear UV-absorbent shades. Sun-glasses don’t have to be expensive, but they should block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB radiation.
Limit exposure. UV rays are most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you’re unsure about the sun’s intensity, take the shadow test: If your shadow is shorter than you, the sun’s rays are the day’s strongest.
How to apply sunscreen
Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF rating of 15 or higher. Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before going out into the sun (or as directed by the manufacturer) to give it time to absorb into your skin. Apply it generously and regularly— about 1 ounce every 2 hours—and more often if you are swimming or perspiring. A small tube containing between 3 and 5 ounces of sunscreen might only be enough for one per-Do not forget about lips, ears, feet, hands, bald spots and the back of the neck. In addition, apply sunscreen to areas under bathing suit straps, necklaces, bracelets, and sunglasses. Keep sunscreen until the expiration date or for no more than 3 years, because the sunscreen ingredients might become less effective over time.
According to the FDA, “water resistant” sunscreens must maintain their SPF after 40 minutes of water immersion, while “very water resistant” sunscreens must maintain their SPF after 80 minutes of water immersion. Either type of water-resistant sunscreen must be reapplied regularly, as heavy perspiration, water, and towel drying remove the sunscreen’s protective layer.