"Sunshine on my shoulder makes me happy."--John Denver
John Denver wasn't alone in this feeling. We do tend to smile more when the sun smiles on us. Besides the emotional benefits, the sun's rays give us vitamin D for strong bones and teeth and help improve some cases of acne. But too much time spent with our friend the sun can be dangerous ... causing reactions to medication, premature aging and skin cancer.
UVA rays penetrate deep into skin and gradually destroy its elasticity. This causes premature aging and contributes to skin cancer. UVB rays cause unprotected skin to burn and are considered the main cause of skin cancer. UVC rays are deadly to all life. The ozone layer protects us by absorbing UVC, but with the thinning of the ozone layer, we will most likely be exposed to more of these deadly rays in the future.
All sun exposure is cumulative, with Sunday adding to Saturday, which added to Friday, which added to Thursday, etc. Does this mean we have to stay inside all the time? Of course not. But it does mean that we should be aware of the risks and take proper precautions, including wearing hats and protective clothing and using sunscreen.
Some medications cause photoreactions with sunlight or increase the skin's sensitivity to the sun. Be sure to consult your doctor about sunlight interaction with any medications you're taking. Also be sure to completely read interaction and reaction information on any over-the-counter medications you may be using.
We all know lying by the pool, playing volleyball on the beach, or sitting in the bleachers cheering for our kid to hit a home run is considered sun exposure. What we often forget is that going to the mailbox, taking the dog out, walking through the parking lot to the car, etc. are also. This is called "incidental" sun exposure ... what happens as we go about our everyday lives.
It's no surprise that exposure to the sun causes the skin to age, but what you might not realize is the degree to which that happens. Eighty percent of the visible signs of aging are caused by exposure to the sun. Sixty percent of that amount is caused by "incidental" sun exposure.
Basal Cell Carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer, and Squamous Cell Carcinoma, the second most common form, account for about 90% of all reported cases. When detected early, they have a cure rate of about 95%.
Malignant Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, is also linked to overexposure to the sun. Some doctors believe that one severe sunburn can double your chance of contracting this disease, and one or two severe sunburns in childhood can triple the risk.
Visit these websites to learn more about the various forms of skin cancer and how to detect them.
Skin Cancer Guide
Skin Cancer Guide-Glossary & Photos
Skin Cancer Support
Melanin, the body's natural defense against the ultraviolet rays of the sun, is the pigment that gives our skin its color. The more melanin, the deeper the color. Therefore, people with light skin, fair hair, and blue eyes are more likely to burn and at a greater risk to develop skin cancer. However, melanin isn't total protection. While dark skin decreases your risk, you can still burn and develop skin cancer so protection is important.
Near the equator, a person can burn twice as fast as in the northern latitudes. The sun's rays also become more intense at higher altitudes. Keep in mind that you may need different sun protection on vacation than you do at home if your destination is at a higher altitude or more tropical latitude. In the northern hemisphere, ultraviolet rays are most intense April through August. In the southern hemisphere, they're most intense October through February.
Ultraviolet rays from the sun are strongest during midday (10 a.m.-2 p.m.), so take that into account when planning outdoor activities. If it's a cloudy day, don't expect the clouds to protect you. You're still exposed to 80% of the sun's rays. Also, exposure can be increased by as much as 90% from reflections off snow, ice and cement.
Determine the sun protection factor (SPF) that you need with this simple formula. Start with the number of minutes you can be in the sun unprotected before turning noticably pink. Multiply that by the SPF of your sunscreen to learn how long you will be protected.
For instance, someone who can stay out in the sun unprotected for 15 minutes before turning pink will get 300 minutes (5 hrs.) of protection from a sunscreen of SPF 20.
"unprotected minutes" x "SPF" = "protection time"
"15 minutes" x "SPF 20" = "300 minutes"
Apply your sunscreen 15 (preferably 30) minutes before going out into the sun for maximum protection. You can't add 15 SPF to 20 SPF to get 35 SPF, so be sure you have the right strength. Don't forget your feet or, for the men, that little bald spot on top.
Maintain your protection by reapplying the sunscreen after sweating heavily or spending 30 minutes or more in the water. Doublecheck these times on your specific sun protection product for indivual product differences.
You Cannot Extend your protection by reapplying more sunscreen after your time is up. Once your protected minutes have elapsed, it's time to go inside.
Tanning booths became very popular because people wanted the look of a tan without the damaging exposure to the sun ... or so we thought. Unfortunately, this initial misconception about tanning booths gave us a false sense of security. The Skin Cancer Foundation, along with other reputable scientific authorities, says using a tanning booth may actually be more risky than sun exposure. Although the long-term effects of tanning booths are not yet known, it is known that the exposure you get there can cause acute sunburn, eye damage, skin cancer, and premature aging.
If you have a Fun In The Sun question you'd like to ask, just e-mail me here. Be sure to put "Fun In The Sun" in the subject line.
[It's a Colorful Life]
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