Summer fun in the sun

By Dr. William Hablitzel – 

Sun is as much a part of summer fun as barbeques, swimming, and baseball. While sunlight triggers the production of vitamin D in the body and makes us feel good, it can also damage our skin and be a risk to our health. Skin damage can occur within 15 minutes of sun exposure. Suntan is a sign that the skin has been damaged. When the ultraviolet rays of sunlight penetrate the epidermis—the outer layer of skin—the dark brown pigment melanin is produced to try to protect the skin from further damage. There is no such thing as a safe tan. Over time, excessive exposure to sunlight reduces the elasticity of the skin producing premature aging and increases the risk of permanent skin damage and skin cancer. Melanoma, a particularly aggressive and deadly type of skin cancer, is the fifth leading cancer among men and sixth among women in the United States. The incidence of melanoma is increasing in the United States, doubling in the three-decades between 1982 and 2011.
Non-melanoma skin cancers, like squamous and basal cell skin cancers, are associated with cumulative sun exposure over many years, while melanomas are associated with intense, intermittent sun exposure and sunburns. Five or more severe sunburns during childhood and adolescence doubles a person’s risk of developing melanoma during their lifetime. Those who have an increased susceptibility to sunburn have been shown to have an increased risk of skin cancer.
There are things we can do to protect ourselves so that we can continue to have fun in the sun this summer. Seeking shade or reducing sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. during the summer months reduces the risk of skin damage from sunlight. Wearing long-sleeve shirts, trousers, and hats with a wide brim can also reduce sun exposure. Clothing made from tightly-woven fabric and dark colors offer the greatest amount of protection. Sunscreens with a sun protective factor (SPF) of 30 or higher have been shown to reduce sun damage, photoaging, and skin cancer. They should be applied 15-30 minutes before sun exposure and reapplied at least every two hours.  Intentional tanning by using tanning beds do not protect against sunburn. A dark tan on fair skin provides a sun protective factor of approximately 2 to 4.
For more information about the health risks of excessive sun exposure, contact the Adams County Health Department at (937) 544-5547.