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Protect skin from summer’s UV rays

July 1, 1993

Protect skin from summer’s UV rays

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Skin cancer, the most common type of cancer in the United States, is a long-term effect of over exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV rays damage skin cells, which can lead to one of three types of skin cancer: basal cell carinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Fortunately, skin cancers are preventable and highly curable if found and treated early.

“Protecting your skin from UV rays is a must all year-round, but especially during summer months when the sun spends the most amount of time directly overhead,” says Lily Lai, M.D., skin cancer expert at City of Hope Cancer Center in Los Angeles. “That is when UV radiation levels are highest.” UV radiation levels are at a maximum when the sun is high and the skies are cloudless, but it is also reflected or scattered by different surfaces. Even with cloud cover, the UV levels can be strong due to scattering, while sand may reflect as much as 15 percent of UV rays and sea foam as much as 25 percent. People taking tropical vacations should also use caution because UV levels are highest near the equator.

Feeling pale? Trips to tanning booths expose you to ultraviolet rays just as the sun does. Having a tan, natural or artificial, is a sign that the sun has already damaged your skin. Using a sunless tanner is a good way to get tan without damaging your skin.

“While certain risk factors increase the chance of skin cancer, everyone is at risk of developing it and needs to wear sunscreen, even people with darker skin tones,” explains Dr. Lai. 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 during the summer months:

n Avoid exposure to midday sun, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., when UV rays are most dangerous.

n 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.

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

n Protect children from the sun’s rays as soon as they are born. The damaging effects of UV radiation can begin in childhood.

n 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.

n Avoid sun lamps and tanning booths.

Skin cancer, especially melanoma, has the potential to 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 your yearly physical.

For more information about skin cancer research and treatment at City of Hope Cancer Center, call 1-800-826-HOPE or visit www.cityofhope.org.

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