Health & Safety

August 3, 2012

Critical Days of Summer

Protecting skin from sun full time job

By Senior Airman C.J. Hatch
56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The sun in Arizona beats down almost all year long. The thing that brings many people to the state can also be harmful to one’s health if precautions are not taken.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation’s website www.skincancer.org, more than 3.5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the U.S. More than 90 percent of those cases are caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

There are two types of UV rays to watch out for, UVA and UVB, according to the foundation. UVA rays account for 95 percent of the UV radiation reaching the earth. These rays penetrate the skin more deeply than those of UVB and are responsible for a person’s tan. But it also plays a major role in skin aging and wrinkling.

“UVA is the dominant tanning ray, and we now know that tanning, whether outdoors or in a salon, causes cumulative damage over time,” said Rachel Perkins-Garner, 56th Medical Group registered nurse. “A tan results from injury to the skin’s DNA; the skin darkens in an imperfect attempt to prevent further DNA damage. These imperfections, or mutations, can lead to skin cancer.”

UVB rays don’t penetrate as deeply, tending to damage the skin’s more superficial epidermal layer and are the major causes of skin reddening and sunburn. These rays play a key role in skin cancer.

“UVB rays can burn and damage skin year-round,” Perkins-Garner said. “UVB rays can be increased by high altitudes and reflective surfaces such as snow or ice, which bounce back up to 80 percent of the rays, so they hit the skin twice. The most significant amount of UVB hits the U.S. between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. from April to October.”

There are things people can do to protect themselves from both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreen is one of those things, and as of this year the rules for sunscreen makers have changed.

According to WebMD, sunscreens with the label “broad spectrum” are now required to prove they block both UVA and UVB rays.

“The old sun protection factor designation will still show how well a product protects against UVB rays,” WebMD said. “But products with the new broad spectrum label will have to pass a test showing that they protect against UVA rays too. The higher the SPF level on these new broad-spectrum sunscreens, up to SPF 50, the better they protect against both UVA and UVB rays.”

The wording also changed on a bottle of sunscreen. Makers of sunscreen will no longer be able to label their product as sun block, waterproof or lasting for more than two hours.

“Sunscreen labels will have a clear message stating how long water-resistant sunscreens maintain protection after a person swims or sweats,” WebMD said. “Labels will specify either 40 or 80 minutes of protection. Those that aren’t water resistant will have to carry a warning to that effect. Products will not be allowed to claim they block the sun or that they prevent skin cancer or aging. They also can’t say they last for more than two hours unless proof of longer protection is submitted to the FDA.”

Even with the changes in regulations for sunscreen the Skin Cancer Foundation has recommended using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher to help protect from the sun’s rays. But for the foundation sunscreen alone is not enough and they recommend using these skin cancer prevention tips.

 

  • Seek shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Avoid burning.
  • Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Apply 1 ounce, or 2 tablespoons, of sunscreen to the body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
  • Examine skin head-to-toe every month.
  • See a physician every year for a professional skin exam.

 

“The American Academy of Dermatology recommends performing regular skin checks at home using the ABCDEs of melanoma,” Perkins-Garner said.

A – Asymmetry (if one half of the mole or pigmented area is unlike the other half)

B – Border (an irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border)

C – Color (varies from one area to another; has shades of tan, brown or black, or is sometimes white, red, or blue)

D – Diameter (melanomas usually greater than 6 mm (size of pencil eraser) but they can be smaller)

E – Evolving (a mole or lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color)

 

For more information or to schedule an appointment for a skin survey, call the 56th MDG at (623) 856-2273.




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