Sun safety: The days of summer

By Drusilla Banks

“Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer,” sang Nat “King” Cole many years ago.  Yes, summer is short.  Sadly, officially only 93 days.  Therefore, we cannot afford to waste a single day.  Get out and enjoy the days of summer.  If you cannot get out, sit by a window; sit on your porch, the deck or your balcony.  However, remember to protect yourself in the hot summer sunshine, even the sunshine through a window.

What is the UV Index?

You may have seen the UV (ultraviolet) Index in the weather report.  According to the National Weather Service: The UV Index is a next-day forecast of the amount of skin-damaging UV radiation expected to reach the earth’s surface.  This prediction is for the time when the sun is highest in the sky (solar noon).  The UV Index is a set of numbers that scientists use to predict the UV levels on a given day.

The report provides a series of numbers that predict the UV levels at noon, when the UV levels are highest (if it is sunny).  Higher numbers mean more risk of sun damage to your skin.  Low risk numbers are 1-2, moderate risk numbers are 3-5, high risk numbers are 6-7, very high risk numbers are 8-10 and extreme risk is 11 and above.

Increased risk for skin cancer, especially melanoma, is associated with prolonged exposure to sunlight, blistering sunburns and a family history of skin cancer.  Check your skin regularly for new moles that are tender or growing.  Do you have a dermatologist?  Ask your primary care doctor how often you need to see a dermatologist.

No, it is not smart to broil in the sun for several hours, even if you are wearing sunscreen.  These products do not provide total protection.  The American Cancer Society recommends that people seek shade and limit time in the sun at midday.  So, seek the shade, especially between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., when the sun tends to be the hottest during the summer months.

Protective eye ware

Sunglasses are still cool.  Rock stars seem to wear them constantly, for whatever reason.  Moreover, sunglasses offer eye protection.  Long-term overexposure to UV radiation is linked to the formation of cataracts and other eye diseases.  Choose large frames and lenses with 99-100 percent UAV/UVB protection.

Protective clothing

Look for loose-fitting, brightly colored, unbleached, tightly woven fabrics.  The tighter the weave, the more protective the garment on long-sleeve shirts and long pants.  Choose a hat with a wide brim that can shade your whole face from the sun.  A baseball cap or visor does not protect the ears or sides of the face.

In summary, consider these guidelines:

* The best way to lower your risk of skin changes is to protect your skin from the sun.  This includes using sunscreen, sunglasses, protective clothing, and other protective measures.

* Avoid long sun exposure, particularly from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when UV rays are the strongest.

* Remember that the higher the altitude, the quicker your skin burns with sun exposure.  In addition, the start of summer is when UV rays can cause the most skin damage.

* Use sun protection, even on cloudy days.  Clouds and haze do not protect you from the sun and can even make UVB rays stronger.

* Avoid and/or use protective measures around surfaces that reflect light, such as water, sand, concrete, snow and areas that are painted white.

* DO NOT use sun lamps and tanning beds (tanning salons).  Spending 15 to 20 minutes at a tanning salon is as dangerous as a day spent in the sun.

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