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Summer Approaches - Sun Safety is Key

By Connie Bobik

April 5, 2012, Brevard County, FL - In the past few weeks time moved forward and spring arrived ushering in long, sunny days. As outdoor activities increase it’s a good time to reflect on the power of the sun and its effect on our health. With the coming of summer the sun’s intensity and one’s exposure to UV (ultraviolet) rays (UVA, UVB) increases.

About 3.5 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year with more than 90% associated with sun exposure. Time of year, altitudes and proximity to the tropics influence UV concentration. Florida, given its location, has higher levels of UV radiation from the sun than northern states. Not only is it closer to the tropics but UV rays reflect off the sand and water increasing the risk of sunburn. Although skin cancer usually appears in adults (40-50% by age 65), it is caused by sunburns in earlier years. Before age 18, 50-80% of one’s lifetime sun exposure has occurred. Sunburns in childhood/adolescence or five or more sunburns at any age doubles the risk of skin cancer.

Severe sunburns that are caused by UVB rays before the age of 20 are associated with development of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Suntans, as well as artificial UV emitting sources (sunlamps, tanning beds), also cause skin damage and are considered a risk factor. It should be noted that most sun damage is the result of exposure during day to day activities.

Sun protection at all ages is the key in avoiding the most common cause of skin cancer—the sun.

Tips to be Sun Safe

  • Limit time in the sun and avoid sun exposure during the hottest hours of the day (between 10am and 4pm) when the rays are most damaging
    • On cloudy days 70% of the sun’s rays still get through the clouds
    • Take shade breaks under a tree or a beach umbrella
    • Apply a SPF 15 or higher sunscreen and for children 6 months and older an SPF 30 sunscreen (SPF is the most important element in choice of a sunscreen)
  • Sunscreens should not be used on infants under 6 months
  • Select a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays (a “broad spectrum” sunscreen)
  • Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside or to the beach to ensure a protective layer; apply it generously and reapply often – every 2 hours and after swimming or sweating
  • Use a waterproof sunscreen when swimming
  • Protect lips with lip balm that blocks UV light
  • Wear sunglasses that provide 100% UV protection to protect the eyes from potential damage (burned cornea or cataracts in later life due to cumulative sun exposure)

Remember that skin cancer has its beginnings in early childhood. Unprotected exposure to the sun’s rays damages the skin and increases the risk of skin cancer later in life. Be Sun Safe and protect yourself and your family.

Connie Bobik is an Associate Professor of Nursing and Director of the Nursing program on the Brevard Community College Cocoa Campus.