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by Jani Sutherland

June 1, 2003

Protect yourself!

Sun Savvy - how much do you know?

According to the most recent estimates from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the ozone layer is being depleted at a rate of 4 to 6 percent each decade. This means additional UV radiation is reaching the Earth's surface and our bodies. We can take protective measures by following the seven steps below.

There are seven steps to safer sunning. These recommendations (following) come from many organizations, including the American Academy of Dermatology, American Cancer Society, Skin Cancer Foundation, National Cancer Institute, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Weather Service.

1. Avoid the sun.

The sun's rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., so it is especially important to avoid the sun during those hours. Also avoid the sun when the UV index is high. The UV index is a number from 1 to 10+ that indicates the amount of UV radiation reaching the earth's surface during the hour around noon (if you are outside). The higher the number the greater the exposure to UV radiation. This number is forecast daily in many cities by the National Weather Service.

Cloudy skies can fool you!! Clouds block out only 20 percent of UV radiation. And UV radiation passes through water, so you aren't safe from it while in the water. Sand and snow reflect sunlight and increase the amount of UV radiation you get. The vast majority of UVA passes through window glass and can cause skin damage (more on UVA and UVB below). UV radiation increases 4 percent for every 1000 feet increase in altitude.

2. Use Sunscreen.

Sunscreens and sunblocks absorb, reflect or scatter some or all of the sun's rays. Sunscreen products labeled "broad spectrum" protect against 2 types of radiation: UVA and UVB. It was previously thought that only UVB caused skin damage, but scientists now believe that both can cause sunburn, damage to the skin and skin cancer. Some products only protect against UVB, so read labels carefully!

The FDA requires labels of all sunscreen and sunblock products to state the SPF or sun protection factor. The higher the number the longer a person can stay in the sun before burning. SPF levels range from 2 to 30. The FDA suggests 30 as the upper limit as anything above that level offers little additional benefits and may expose people to dangerous levels of chemicals.

3. Wear a Hat.

A hat with at least a 3" brim on all sides can protect the neck, ears, eyes and scalp.

4. Wear Sunglasses.

Sunglasses should block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB radiation. Read the label; don't go by how dark the glasses are. UV protection comes from an invisible chemical applied to the lenses. Larger frames protect more. Children should also wear sunglasses.

5. Cover Up.

Wear a lightweight, long sleeved shirt and pants or long skirts. Most materials absorb or reflect UV rays. A tightly woven fabric is best. Sun protective clothing is going to be regulated by the FDA only if the manufacturer claims it has medical benefits such as preventing skin cancer. There are currently no products that qualify as sun protective under this new policy.

6. Avoid Artificial Tanning.

Many people mistakenly think tanning beds are harmless because they primarily emit UVA rays. UVA can cause serious skin damage too. Sunlamps also increase radiation risk.

7. Check Skin Regularly.

The best time to do a skin exam is after a bath or shower (you can check all areas). Get to know your moles, blemishes and birthmarks so you can tell if they undergo any changes. Look for changes in size, texture, shape and color, or a sore that does not heal.

Remember skin cancer is very slow to develop. The sunburn you received as a child may take 20 or more years to become skin cancer. Tanning is the skin's response to UV light. It is a protective reaction to prevent further injury to the skin from the sun. It does not prevent skin cancer. People with higher risk are those with fair skin, Northern European heritage or those with a family history of skin cancer.

Open water season will be here soon and we all enjoy being outside in the sun during the summer. Protect yourself by following the 7 Sun Savvy steps!!

This month's article is by Jani Sutherland, Co Fitness Chair of the Oregon LMSC and member of the USMS Fitness Committee. This article is from the July issue of the Aqua-Master, official newsletter of the Oregon LMSC, and it is reprinted with permission from the author.


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