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Importance of sun safety

July 10, 2012
The Daily News

July is Ultraviolet (UV) Safety Month, and with summer in full swing, more people will be spending time outdoors under the sun, the No. 1 source of UV rays.

That's why the American Cancer Society is emphasizing the importance of sun safety and the dangers of UV rays.

While enjoying the sunshine is usually part of summer plans, protecting skin from the sun's rays is one of the most important things individuals can do to help prevent skin cancer.

More than 2 million people are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancers each year in the United States, with most caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays.

American Cancer Society urges residents to remember to Slip, Slop, Slap, and Wrap this summer.

- Slip on a shirt: When you're out in the sun, wear clothing to protect as much skin as possible. Ideal sun-protective fabrics are lightweight, comfortable, and protect against exposure even when wet.

- Slop on sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher: Apply products with an SPF to unprotected skin. And look for a sunscreen that protects against both UVA (ultraviolet A or long-wave) and UVB (ultraviolet B or short-wave) rays so you're protected from both types of harmful rays from the sun.

This sunscreen is often called broad-spectrum sunscreen. Apply about a palmful of sunscreen generously to exposed areas, and be sure to reapply at least every two hours - and more often if you're swimming or sweating.

- Slap on a hat: A hat with at least a 2- to 3-inch brim all around is ideal to protect your neck, ears, eyes, forehead, nose, and scalp.

- Wrap on some sunglasses: Don't forget your eyes. Although most people don't think about it, research has shown that exposing the eyes to extensive sun exposure increases your chances of developing eye disease. Make sure you wear sunglasses that block 99 percent to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays. They don't have to be expensive, just protective.

- Skip the midday sun-soak: UV rays are most intense during the middle of the day, usually between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. It's best to plan your outdoor activities during another time, if possible.

- Give special attention to the kids: Children tend to spend more time outdoors, can burn more easily, and may not be aware of the sun's dangers. Be sure to protect your kids using the guidelines above, and start building sun-safe habits while they're young. Babies younger than 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight and protected from sun with hats and protective clothing.

Protect your eyes

"The sun's primary danger is in the form of Ultraviolet (UV) radiation," said Alicia Gardner, Health Initiatives director for the American Cancer Society Great Lakes Division. "UV radiation is a component of solar radiation, but it also can be given off by artificial sources like welding machines, tanning beds and lasers. Most people are aware of the harm UV radiation can do to the skin, but many may not realize that exposure to UV radiation can harm the eyes or that other components of solar radiation can also affect vision."

If eyes are exposed to excessive amounts of UV radiation over a short period of time, you are likely to experience an effect called photokeratitis. Like a "sunburn of the eye," photokeratitis may be painful and include symptoms such as red eyes, a foreign body sensation or gritty feeling in the eyes, extreme sensitivity to light and excessive tearing. Fortunately, this is usually temporary and rarely causes permanent damage to the eyes.

Long-term exposure to UV radiation, however, can be more serious. Scientific studies and research have shown that exposure to small amounts of UV radiation over a period of many years increases the chance of developing a cataract and may cause damage to the retina, a nerve-rich lining of the eye that is used for seeing.

The longer the eyes are exposed to solar radiation, the greater the risk of developing later in life such conditions as cataracts or macular degeneration.

How to buy the right sunscreen

Sunscreens are available in many forms - lotions, creams, ointments, gels, wipes, and lip balms, to name a few. But with so many different varieties, how do you know that you're buying the right sunscreen? What kind of information should you be looking for? To help narrow the choices, here are a few guidelines from the American Cancer Society to help you and your family remain sun-safe this summer:

Read the labels. When choosing a sunscreen product, be sure to read the label before you buy. Many groups, including the American Academy of Dermatology, recommend products with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. The SPF number represents the level of protection against UVB rays provided by the sunscreen - a higher number means more protection.

Sunscreens labeled with SPFs as high as 100-plus are now available. Higher numbers do mean more protection, but many people mistakenly think that a sunscreen with an SPF 45 rating would give 3 times as much protection as one with an SPF of 15. This is not true.

SPF 15 sunscreens filter out about 93 percent of UVB rays, while SPF 30 sunscreens filter out about 97 percent, SPF 50 sunscreens about 98 percent, and SPF 100 about 99 percent. No sunscreen protects you completely.

The SPF number indicates protection against UVB rays only. Sunscreen products labeled "broad-spectrum" provide some protection against both UVA and UVB rays, but at this time there is no standard system for measuring protection from UVA rays. Products that contain avobenzone (Parsol 1789), ecamsule, zinc oxide, or titanium dioxide can provide some protection from UVB and most UVA rays.



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