The Future Is So Bright, We Gotta Wear Shades and Sunscreen

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By Cari Herington | MBA Executive Director of Nevada Cancer Coalition

This column appears in the Nevada Appeal Wednesday health pages. It addresses topics related to the health of our community.

Spring has arrived in northern Nevada. We can almost touch the sunny days of summer just around the corner. It is time to plant that garden, ride bikes, and hit the hiking trails. Spending time outside – be it during the spring, summer, fall, or winter – is part of what we love about living here in northern Nevada.

It is no secret that skin cancer has become the most common cancer in the United States. It is diagnosed more often than breast, lung, prostate, and colon cancers combined. The good news is that skin cancer is also one of the most preventable cancers.

The number one cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. There are two types of ultraviolet rays that reach the earth from the sun – ultraviolet A (UVA) rays and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVA rays are absorbed in the deeper layers of your skin causing aging and wrinkling. UVB rays cause the burning on the outer layer of your skin. Both UVA and UVB rays can cause skin cancer, as well as damage to your eyes.

There is no such thing as a safe tan. A tan is your skin’s response to injury from UV rays. Sunburns at any age are dangerous. One or more blistering sunburns in childhood or as a teenager can more than double your risk of skin cancer later in life. Other risk factors include fair skin, moles, or freckles, and a family history of skin cancer. Even those without risk factors can get skin cancer.

Completely avoiding the sun is impossible and certainly is not the point of this article. We can protect ourselves and our families, however, from the damaging rays of the sun. I admit to being a sun worshiper in my earlier years, but I am now a diligent daily user of sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses. I cannot take back all the years of sun damage to my skin, but I can prevent more damage. I am also teaching my daughters to make putting on sunscreen a daily habit, just like brushing their teeth and washing their hands.

Understanding sunscreen

SPF stands for “sun protection factor.” SPF is a measure of how the sunscreen will protect you from UV rays. The higher the SPF number, the greater the protection against UV rays. No sunscreen can protect you 100 percent, but a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 blocks nearly 97 percent of the sun’s rays when applied thoroughly.

A sunscreen that is labeled “broad-spectrum” or “multi-spectrum” means the sunscreen protects against not only UVB rays, but also UVA rays. Some sunscreens can be water-resistant to withstand water and sweat, but they need to be reapplied often. No sunscreen is waterproof or sweat proof.

The rule of thumb is to put on sunscreen 20 minutes before going outside. Then reapply at least every two hours while outside. Reapply sunscreen immediately after swimming, toweling off, or sweating. The more sunscreen, the better – slop and slather it on! Many people do not apply enough.

Be Sun Smart with the 5 S’s

Sunscreen is not the only way to protect your skin from the sun’s rays. The best way to prevent skin cancer is to follow the 5 S’s: SLIP on sun protective clothing such as a long-sleeved shirt, SLOP on broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater, SLAP on a wide-brimmed hat, SEEK shade, and do not forget to SLIDE on those sunglasses!

While it is best to prevent skin cancer in the first place, when caught early skin cancer is highly treatable. The two most common types of skin cancer, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, are highly curable. Melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is much more dangerous. If you notice a suspicious spot on your body, contact your health care provider immediately. For more information on skin cancer prevention and early detection, visit us at SunSmartNevada.org and at NevadaCancerCoalition.org.