Be safe in the sun this summer

Take steps to protect yourself from skin cancer

Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays puts people at greater risk for all the common types of skin cancer. Sunlight is the main source of UV rays, but you don’t have to avoid the sun completely. There are common sense steps you can take to limit your exposure to UV rays.

Dr. Carey Bligard, a dermatologist at UnityPoint Clinic, provided sunscreen education and prevention information to the staff and lifeguards at the Fort Dodge Parks and Rec Center pools on the topic of sun safety and the importance of using sun screen properly. UnityPoint Health — Trinity Cancer Center was awarded the 2017 Iowa Cancer Consortium’s Sun-safety Community grant to increase sunscreen use and decrease incidence of sunburns at the Fort Dodge and Eagle Grove outdoor aquatic centers. Trinity collaborated with American Cancer Society and the Fort Dodge Parks and Recreation Department to provide gallon-size bottles of SPF 30 sunscreen to be used at the public pool areas.

Dr. Bligard said: “It is important to realize that ultraviolet light is a form of radiation. You would not purposely expose yourself to X-rays day after day, and you should not do it with sunlight, either. Ultraviolet B (UVB) light is what causes you to sunburn when you are outdoors. Even one blistering sunburn more than doubles your risk of skin cancer. Ultraviolet A (UVA) light is present all day and all year round, even when it is cloudy or you are behind a window.”

“When choosing a sunscreen, be sure to read the label,” said Bligard. “Sunscreens with broad spectrum protection (against both UVA and UVB rays) and with sun protection factor (SPF) values of 30 plus are recommended. Your sunscreen should list in the active ingredients (on the back label) at least 2 percent avobenzone and 3.6 percent octocrylene in order to get full protection from UVA light.”

“When putting sunscreen on, pay close attention to your face, ears, neck, arms, and any other areas not covered by clothing, including your scalp. Your sunscreen should be the first layer you put on your skin as you are getting ready for the day. Ideally, about 1 ounce of sunscreen (about a palmful) should be used to cover the arms, legs, neck, and face of the average adult. No matter how high the SPF is you must reapply every 2 hours, and more often if you swim,” Bligard said.

Simply staying in the shade is one of the best ways to limit your UV exposure, but make sure if you are under a tree that it has dense leaves — if you can see little bits of light when you look up through the tree then you are getting some ultraviolet exposure. If you are going to be in the sun, “Slip! Slop! Slap! and Wrap” is a catchphrase that can help you remember some of the key steps you can take to protect yourself from UV rays:

• Slip on a shirt.

• Slop on sunscreen.

• Slap on a hat.

• Wrap on UV protective sunglasses to protect the eyes and skin around them.

Seek shade. An obvious but very important way to limit your exposure to UV light is to avoid being outdoors in direct sunlight too long. This is particularly important between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV light is strongest. If you are unsure how strong the sun’s rays are, use the shadow test: If your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun’s rays are the strongest, and it’s important to protect yourself.

Children need special attention and protection from the sun. They tend to spend more time outdoors, can burn more easily, and may not be aware of the dangers. Parents and other caregivers should protect children from excess sun exposure by using the steps above. You should develop the habit of using sunscreen on exposed skin for yourself and your children whenever you go outdoors and may be exposed to large amounts of sunlight. Children need to be taught about the dangers of too much sun exposure as they become more independent. If you or your child burns easily, be extra careful to cover up, limit exposure, and apply sunscreen.

Babies have much more sensitive skin and do not tan like older children and adults, so if they are younger than 6 months old they should be kept out of direct sunlight and protected from the sun using hats, protective clothing and sun shades. Sunscreen may be used on small areas of exposed skin only if adequate clothing and shade are not available, but babies have very sensitive skin and can easily develop irritation from products that would not bother an adult.

Products with at least 5 percent zinc oxide or titanium dioxide give complete coverage but do not cause irritation or allergies, so may be used on anyone with sensitive or allergic skin, including babies. Dr. Bligard warns, however, “These products can be wiped off as they don’t soak into the skin like other sunscreen products, so you must make sure that you reapply if you wipe your skin.”

If you plan to be outdoors, you may want to check the UV Index for your area. The UV Index usually can be found in local newspaper, TV, radio, and online forecasts.

To learn more about The American Cancer Society and their guidelines for sun safety visit. cancer.org/sunsafety.

Liddy Hora is senior manager for hospital systems, American Cancer Society, North Region. She can be contacted at liddy.hora@cancer.org.

Skin cancer prevention action steps

• Do not burn. Overexposure to the sun is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer.

• Avoid sun tanning and tanning beds. UV light from tanning beds and the sun causes skin cancer and wrinkling.

• Use sunscreen. Generously apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. Reapply at least every two hours, and after swimming or sweating.

• Cover up. Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses with 99-100 percent UVA/UVB protection, when possible.

• Seek shade. Seek shade when the sun’s UV rays are most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

• Watch for the UV index. Pay attention to the UV Index when planning outdoor activities to prevent overexposure to the sun.