Protect skin from harmful ultraviolet rays

Feeling pale? Take precautions from winter sun exposure.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. It can result from long-term over exposure to Ultraviolet Radiation (UV Rays). Having a tan, natural or artificial, is a sign that the skin has already been damaged. UV Ray-damaged skin cells can lead to one of three types of skin cancer: basal cell carinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. The American Cancer Society estimates there were 54,200 news cases of melanoma in the U.S. in 2003. Fortunately, skin cancers are preventable and highly curable if found and treated early.

Since UV Rays penetrate cloud cover and are not affected by temperature, protecting skin is a must all year-round, not just in the summer months. UV Radiation is also reflected or scattered by different surfaces. Snow, for example, can reflect as much as 80 percent of UV Radiation, and UV levels increase significantly as altitude increases. Winter sports such as skiing can present UV exposure as intense as a day at the beach.

People taking winter cruises or tropical vacations should also use caution. Sand may reflect as much as 15 percent of UV Rays and sea foam as much as 25 percent. While the sun may not climb as high during the winter months, UV levels are still strong during mid-day and the sun’s intensity is highest near the equator.

Winter trips to tanning booths cause exposure to UV Rays just as the sun does. In fact, a recent study by the National Cancer Institute found that using tanning booths more than once a month can increase the risk of getting skin cancer by 150 percent.

Several risk factors increase the chance of skin cancer, but everyone is at risk of developing the disease. Some of these risk factors include: having fair skin that freckles easily; living in warm climates with high sun exposure and/or high altitudes; occupational exposure, such as working outdoors; overall lifetime exposure to the sun; and having many moles.

Here are some tips to protect your skin from harmful UV Rays all year:

• Avoid exposure to mid-day sun, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., when UV Rays are most dangerous.

• Use sunscreen with a sun protective factor (SPF) of 15 or higher whenever you spend time outdoors. Remember to reapply sunscreen every 1 to 1 ½ hours.

• Wear protective clothing such as hats and long-sleeved shirts that block the sun’s rays.

• Protect young children from the sun’s rays. The damaging effects of UV Radiation can begin in childhood.

• Be careful when taking certain medications that may cause the skin to burn more easily. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to determine if your medication could be a problem.

• Avoid sun lamps and tanning booths.

Skin cancer, especially melanoma, can be deadly. By taking steps to prevent sun damage and detect symptoms early, you can protect yourself. Remember to ask your doctor to evaluate your skin during examinations.

For more information about skin cancer research and treatment at City of Hope Cancer Center in Los Angeles, call 1-800-826-HOPE or visit

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