National UV Safety Month
July means fun in the sun for many people. But with the bright and sunny weather comes higher exposure to harmful Ultraviolet (UV) rays, which are the main cause of skin cells turning into cancer.
Taking extra precautions with your skin this summer is more important than ever, as the rate of skin cancer has increased dramatically over the last decade. According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. More skin cancers are diagnosed each year than all other cancers combined.
Understanding UV Radiation
UV radiation is made up of UVA and UVB rays which can cause damage to the cells in the top layer of your skin called the epidermis. UVA may lead to aging, age spots, eye injury/cataracts and genetic damage to your skin. UVB the stronger form of UV radiation is also responsible for sunburns, which is the main risk factor for developing cancerous melanoma cells.
Most people assume that too much sunlight is the sole culprit of harmful UV radiation. But tanning lamps and beds are also sources of UV rays and can put you at risk for skin cancer.
We can measure the harmful UV rays known as the UV index. This is a relative scale of UV exposure and the higher the UV index the greater risk of skin injury. Some studies suggest a UVI of greater than 3, others suggest a UVI of 6, are considered harmful and sun protection is advocated. However, the UV index can change throughout the day, and it is important to understand that exposure time and skin type are important for predicting risk of skin injury
Best ways to protect yourself from harmful UV
Everyone should use a sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher every day, even on cloudy days (check the UV index). Choose a sunscreen that provides broad-spectrum coverage and is water resistant. Make sure to reapply every two hours and, if swimming, follow the directions on the bottle. And remember sunscreen acts as a filter and shouldn’t be your only line of defense against UV rays.
Wear Protective Clothing
Instead of shorts and short-sleeved shirts, opt for clothes that provide different levels of UV protection such as long-sleeved shirts, long pants, or long skirts. Colors can make a difference as well in your sun protection. Generally, the darker the color, the better the protection. If you can see light through a fabric, UV rays can get through, too. Wearing protective clothing also applies when swimming, so make sure to wear a swim shirt! Protective clothing is available in various styles and are not only UV rated for protection but may also be water-wicking, an added benefit so be sure to read description labels. One study demonstrated that a beach umbrella is useful but not as effective for sun protection as good clothing and/or sunscreen.
Wear a hat and a neck gator
Sometimes the best sun protection comes in the form of a hat. It is a simple way to protect your eyes, forehead, nose, and scalp. Even better to choose a broad-rimmed, 2- to 3-inch that cover your ears and neck!
Protect your eyes
In addition to wearing a hat, don’t forget about your sunglasses. Choose glasses with 100% UV-A and UV-B ray protection preferably the wrap around type. Lastly, never look directly into the sun even on cloudy days. The sun’s rays can easily pass through haze or thin clouds causing damage to one’s eyes.
Know Your Risk
The more sun safety awareness you have, the better you can protect yourself. While skin cancer can affect anyone, certain factors can increase your risk. Depending on your sensitivity to the sun, you could have a higher risk for melanoma if you:
- Have lighter skin
- Have multiple atypical nevi or moles
- Large congenital moles
- A family history of melanoma or you had melanoma in the past
- A history of blistering sunburns
If you are at a greater risk for skin cancer, you should be extra vigilant with protecting your skin.
Have a fun, healthy, and safe summer!