School's out, the days are longer and the sun shines brilliantly in the sky. What a relief from that hard, cold, snowy winter that we'll long remember. It feels almost therapeutic to bask in the glorious sun that was hiding from us for months.
We've been told time and time again that the sun can be very damaging to our skin and can lead to premature wrinkling, age spots and, in the worst case, cancer.
Cancer of the skin is the most common of all cancers, according to the American Cancer Society, accounting for about 50 percent of all cancers.
"Some people think about sun protection only when they spend a day at the lake, beach or pool," said Al Stabilito, northeast Ohio public relations director of the American Cancer Society. "But sun exposure adds up day after day and it happens every time you are in the sun."
With the alarming numbers of skin cancers being diagnosed in the U.S., it is increasingly evident that people of all colors need protection from ultraviolet radiation, doctors say. Ultraviolet (UV) rays are part of sunlight that is an invisible form of radiation. UV rays can penetrate and change the structure of skin cells.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, ultraviolet A (UVA) is the most abundant source of solar radiation at the earth's surface and penetrates deeper into the dermis, the thickest layer of the skin.
The best ways to lower the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer are to avoid intense sunlight for long periods of time and to practice sun safety. You can continue to exercise and enjoy the outdoors while practicing sun safety at the same time. Here are some ways you can do this:
Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Seek shade: Look for shade, especially in the middle of the day when the sun's rays are strongest. Practice the shadow rule and teach it to children. If your shadow is shorter than you, the sun's rays are at their strongest.
Slip on a shirt: Cover up with protective clothing to guard as much skin as possible when you are out in the sun. Choose comfortable clothes made of tightly woven fabrics that you cannot see through when held up to a light.
Slop on sunscreen: Use sunscreen and lip balm with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. Apply a generous amount of sunscreen (about a palmful) and reapply after swimming, toweling dry or perspiring. Use sunscreen even on hazy or overcast days.
Slap on a hat: Cover your head with a wide-brimmed hat, shading your face, ears, and neck. If you choose a baseball cap, remember to protect your ears and neck with sunscreen.
Wrap on sunglasses: Wear sunglasses with 99 percent to 100 percent UV absorption to provide optimal protection for the eyes and the surrounding skin.
Follow these practices to protect your skin even on cloudy or overcast days. UV rays travel through clouds.
Avoid other sources of UV light. Tanning beds and sun lamps are dangerous because they can damage your skin.
- Source: The American Cancer Society
UVA rays, which can pass through window glass, can cause suppression of the immune system, which interferes with the immune system's ability to protect against the development and spread of skin cancer. UVA exposure also is known to lead to signs of premature aging.
Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, which are blocked by window glass, are the sun's burning rays and are the primary cause of sunburn.
Exposure to both forms of UV rays can lead to the development of skin cancer.
"The tanning industry, which is a billion dollar industry, is built on the fact that UVA light is less damaging than UVB," Robert T. Brodell, a Warren dermatologist, said. "However, both UVA and UVB are bad - it's like comparing cigarettes and light cigarettes - both are bad. There is no safe amount of radiation."
It has been in the news that many people do not get the recommended amounts of vitamin D. However, this past May the Skin Cancer Foundation revised its vitamin D recommendation for adults who have limited sun exposure or who practice photoprotection from 400 to 1,000 international units (IUs) of vitamin D daily.
For children younger than 18, including infants, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 300 IU of vitamin D per day.
"It's not smart to bake in the sun to get vitamin D," Brodell said. "We can get vitamin D by drinking milk, taking vitamin D and eating those foods and drinks that are fortified with vitamin D."
Although the warnings about sun and the risk of cancer have been around for many years, many people do not heed the advice.
"I am seeing older people that are now staying out of the sun, but with the young, even with all the publicity, they unfortunately ignore the facts," Stephen E. Helms, a Howland dermatologist, said. "They know. They nod their heads."
Brodell agreed saying that he is seeing more cases of skin cancer in younger people, with the vast majority caused by baking in the sun or a tanning booth.
"Some people say that they are addicted to tanning and they probably are. Endorphins are released when tanning. If you have an addictive personality, this is another reason not to sit in the sun or use a tanning parlor," Brodell said.
Sunless tanning lotions or air-brushed tans probably are the only "safe" methods of acquiring a tan, if people still believe they must have a tan to look good, doctors say. But the ingredients of "fake" tans generally do not include sunscreen.
"Slip! Slop! Slap! and Wrap!" is a phrase that the American Cancer Society is using to remind people how to protect themselves from the sun.
The phrase means to "slip on a hat, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat and wrap on sunglasses" to protect the eyes and the sensitive skin around them from UV light.
But not all sun protection is created equal. Even on cloudy days, it is recommended to generously apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen 20 minutes before going outside to allow it to penetrate or bind to the skin. Broad-spectrum provides protection from both ultraviolet UVA and UVB rays.
It is recommended to use a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 or 30 to all exposed skin. Re-apply approximately every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.
Sunglasses, often worn as a fashion statement or to shield eyes from the sun's glare, have a function more valuable - protecting eyes from damage and disease caused by overexposure to UV rays.
Polycarbonate lenses offer 99 percent UV protection. Some labels read "UV protection up to 400nm" - this means 100 percent UV absorption.