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Around Our Town...To Your Health

Summer is coming, so protect your skin

06/01/2005 - Summer is coming, the days are getting longer and the sun rays are more powerful this time of year, so protect your skin. The harmful rays of the sun are ultraviolet rays that damage the DNA of the skin cells. This causes skin cancer including melanomas and premature wrinkling of the skin. Many people ask when should I worry about protecting my skin from damaging sun rays? The answer is all year around.

The worst day of the year is the longest day - June 21. Many think that the most intense sun rays are in July and August, when in fact the two months before June 21 (April & May) are just as bad for getting sunburn as the two months after (July & August). So many individuals go out in spring and get sunburned because the weather is cool and it doesn't seem like they are getting very much sun. This is compounded by the fact that there are many sunny days in the spring with snow on the ground. Snow is the most reflective surface in our environment - it reflects 85% of the sunrays. Compare this to water that only reflects 5% of the rays. One should be careful on any light-colored surface, including sand and white painted cement. All of these surfaces reflect high amounts of light.

The time of the day also is a large factor in the amount of exposure to sunrays. During the hours of 10:00 am and 3:00 pm is the worst time to be in the sun. So if you wish to do yard work, try to go out in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid as much sun as possible.

Protection from the sun can be very simple. Wearing long sleeved shirts and hats with a 2-inch brim work very well to keep the sun's hazardous rays at bay. Baseball caps are better than nothing but don't protect your neck, sides of your face or ears, so wearing a brimmed hat is much better. When it gets too hot for the attire, apply sun screen to sun exposed skin. Use at least a sunscreen with SPF of 30 or greater. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and a SPF of 30 means that when applied appropriately, the sunscreen will allow you to stay in the sun 30 times the amount of time you could without it and not burn. The mistake most people make in applying sunscreen is not applying adequate amounts. An application that is too light will not give you the protection advertised on the bottle. For all of you tanning nuts out there, this includes tanning at a salon. Tanning is the skin's way of protecting itself against the harmful effects of sunrays or ultraviolet light (ultraviolet A in tanning salons and ultraviolet B from the sun). The take home message is: WHEN YOU ARE TANNING, YOU ARE DAMAGING YOUR SKIN, SO DON'T PURPOSEFULLY TAN. And have a great summer!

Scott Bennion M.D., Fellow American Academy of Dermatology, and American College of Physicians Central Wyoming Skin Clinic,


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