Independence Day is Almost Here! Stay Safe in the Sun.

As you hop in the pool, start up the grill, and celebrate America, it's time to revisit smart practices to protect you and your entire family, including older relatives and children, from exposure to the sun and its ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Burning Red Sunburns Can Hurt Your Skin Your Whole Life

Like any other burn, sunburns, no matter how minor, indicate your skin has been injured. Every sunburn you get, and the more time you spend in the sun, the greater your risk of developing skin cancer.

Virginia, pictured here celebrating her 50th anniversary with her husband, son and daughter, lives in Pensacola, and has enjoyed time in the sun her whole life. “I have fair hair and freckles, and as a kid I’d get really, really burned. I play tennis, I like golf and enjoy being out in the yard.  It doesn’t matter if you’re playing, fishing or working outdoors, you’re getting the same UV rays and need protection. The sun is not particular. It just comes up every day.

“When I went to see Dr. Andrea Taylor at Advanced Dermatology in Pensacola, she recommended a Total-Body Skin Cancer Exam. She has what I call a ‘magic eye’, which magnifies every spot. I found out I had a bad situation. It was a shock. On my right leg, I had a melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, about the size of a pinhead. It didn’t look to me any different than any other mark, but fortunately, it did to Dr. Taylor and her magic eye. On my left leg was a basal cell carcinoma. Dr. Taylor performed surgery on my right leg and you can barely see the scar. A surgeon came over from Gainesville and did Mohs surgery on my left leg. Mohs is a form of treatment used for some non-melanoma skin cancers. A year later, I had another basal cell carcinoma, this time on my right leg.

“After I got my first results, I sent my husband and my son to see Dr. Andrea Taylor and called my daughter and told her to get checked. Dr. Taylor's very caring and thorough. She tells you straight what is happening and gives you all the options. I like that.”

So Why is Sun Exposure Dangerous?

The culprit is UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) rays. When UV rays reach your skin's inner layer, your skin’s response is to produce more melanin, the pigment that colors your skin. Melanin migrates toward the outer layers of your skin, giving you a tan. Rather than being the “glow of good health”, a tan is actually your skin’s response to a burning injury, whether from the sun’s rays or the UV light of a tanning bed. Remember: There is NO SUCH THING AS A HEALTHY TAN!

Not Only are White and Fair-Skins at Risk of Skin Cancer, But So Is Skin of Color

In addition to a lighter natural skin color, a family history of skin cancer, or a personal history of skin cancer, you are at higher risk for skin cancer if you freckle in the sun, have blue or green eyes, blond or red hair, or a lot of moles.

But if you have naturally darker skin, including an olive complexion, or Hispanic, Indian, African American or other skin of color, you also need to be careful about your sun exposure. It’s a myth that you do not require the use of sunscreen or as much sunscreen as fair-skinned individuals. While skin of color does not tan or burn easily, the damage caused by UV rays still occurs with sun exposure. And individuals with skin of color may have more serious consequences from skin cancer than Caucasians, because skin cancers are often detected at a later stage. This can occur in part because of a lack of awareness of the risks, because telltale signs may not be as obvious, or because skin cancers – particularly melanomas – may occur in out-of-the-way areas that make them hard to detect. For example, the most common location for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is the lower extremities, particularly on the soles of the feet.

How do I protect myself from the sun?

You can’t grill on the barbecue indoors, and most of us can’t swim indoors, but there are still some good practices you can follow to reduce your sun risks without staying indoors entirely.

  • Wear broad spectrum sunscreen (UVA and UVB) with at least SPF 30 or higher. SPF ratings go up to 100, and the higher the number the more you’re protected.
  • Wear protective clothing – exposed skin needs more sunscreen, so when possible wear a long-sleeve shirt and long pants, as well as a broad-brimmed hat. Some clothing may actually have ratings or information on its UV protective factors. If long sleeves and pants are not practical, say you're at the beach, wear a T-shirt or a beach cover-up. A typical T-shirt has an SPF rating lower than 15, so use other types of protection as well.
  • Wear protective eyewear, too. Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. Make sure they block both UVA and UVB rays. Wrap-around sunglasses work best because they block UV rays from the side.
  • Take advantage of shade if you can.

What should I do to protect small children from the sun?

Children are just starting their lifetime exposure to UV rays, and need the same sunscreen protection and protective clothing as you do. Virginia took a lot of caution with her kids. “Little kids shouldn’t be out in the sun for very long. Don’t stay out the whole day or in the hottest part of the day. I would lather them with sunscreen a lot. A lot of people don’t put sunscreen on right, like on the tops and behind their ears and under their neck.

“People who let their children get sunburns might not understand what they’re doing, but as a senior, I can tell you, you don’t need to add skin cancer to your health issues.”

So, what else can you do to keep your children safe in the sun? Remember:

  • It's never too early to get children in the habit of wearing clothing that provides protection from the sun.
  • Children also need sunglasses that have UVA and UVB ratings to protect their eyes.
  • Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. Rub it on about every two hours, or more often if your children are swimming or get wet or sweaty.

Don’t Let the Sun Make You Blue this Holiday

Don’t let a burning sunburn ruin your holiday weekend and add to your skin cancer risk. Be SunSmart and have a sparkling 4th of July!

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