Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Protect yourself when having fun in the sun!

Warmer weather means most of us are spending more time outdoors, but how often do you think about sun protection?

According to the Center for Disease Control, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. In 2007, 58,094 people were diagnosed with melanomas, of which about 65-90% were caused by UV light.

Individuals most at risk of developing skin cancer include persons with pale skin, a family history of skin cancer, and those with freckles or a certain type or large number of moles. People who work outdoors or athletes who spend long periods of times exposed to the sun are also at higher risk.

The sun gives off several different types or radiation, but the types you need to worry about the most are UVA and UVB. UVA is the most common form of radiation, which hits the earth’s surface. This form of radiation does not cause a sun burn, but it does penetrate deeper into the skin and results in a more aged look to the skin. Most UVB radiation is absorbed by the earth’s ozone with about 3-7% hitting the earth’s surface. UVB only penetrates the outer skin, but causes sunburn on the skin.

“Whether it’s UVA or UVB both are dangerous and you need to protect yourself from both,” said Trent Tangen, assistant director of Fitness and Wellness for UIS Recreational Sports.

So how do you protect yourself from the sun? Tangen recommends reducing your exposure to the sun, especially during the hours of 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.; wearing protective clothing, such as a hat, long sleeve shirt and pants; and using safe sunscreen, which is applied generously and often.

A higher SPF, or sun protection factor, does not mean you will be fully protected from the sun. SPF only measures UVB, not the more common UVA radiation on the earth’s surface. Sunscreen primarily fights UVB radiation, which prevents a sunburn, but not necessarily skin cancer.

“While SPF factor is only rating UVB radiation, you can find sunscreen that’s called broad spectrum, which covers UVA and UVB,” said Tangen.

Having a tan actually is an indication that your skin is damaged. Your body naturally releases pigment, which darkens your skin, when the skin cells have been damaged. Tangen recommends adults apply a golf ball sized amount of sunscreen to exposed skin when outdoors for long periods of time.

Some sunscreen claim to protect against UVA radiation, but many sources, such as the Environmental Working Group state that the UVA protection is inadequate. Sunscreen product claims currently has no federal regulation, but that will change starting next summer.

“When shopping for a sunscreen when you go to the store, you’ll go to the sunscreen isle, and you’ll see multiple varieties of sunscreen and probably be confused,” said Tangen.

He recommends doing your homeworking and checking out the top rated safest sunscreens at

Tangen points out there are actually two different types of sunscreens, which are chemical and physical in nature. Physical sunscreens are mineral based and sit on top of your skin without leeching into your skin. Chemical sunscreens contain chemicals, which are absorbed by your skin and can contain risky additives.

“There is more and more research being done today on chemical sunscreens and whether or not the additives themselves can cause cancer,” said Tangen.