Protect your natural body armor this summer

By Lt. Col. Kari Bruley, Army Public Health Nurse, U.S. Army Public Health CommandMay 30, 2014

Sun safety
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Attention sunbathers, golfers and outdoor enthusiasts!

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States with more than 3.5 million cases diagnosed annually. Ninety percent of all skin cancer diagnoses are associated with sun exposure. If you think your risk for developing skin cancer is low, the fact that one in five Americans is diagnosed in their lifetime may prompt you to better care for your own skin and that of your family members.

You and your family can still enjoy the great outdoors this summer while protecting yourselves from excess risks associated with sun exposure if you simply take a few precautions. These precautions are extremely important at the beach and swimming pools since water and sand are known to reflect up to 80 percent of the sun's rays, which elevates your overall sun exposure.

Precautions include:

•Wear clothing that covers skin (to include wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses that advertise ultra-violet radiation protection).

•Wear protective clothing that contains a UV Protection Factor of 30 or greater (a UPF 30 garment allows 1/30th of the sun's UV radiation to penetrate the cloth).

•Spend periodic time under a UPF umbrella.

•Take advantage of shaded areas when possible, particularly between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is the most intense. (On overcast days, 70--80 percent of UV rays penetrate through the clouds.)

Use plenty of sunscreen. Here are some tips for using sunscreen.

o Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen (UVA/UVB).

o Choose a water-resistant sunscreen.

o Select a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor 30 or higher. (SPF 30 provides protection from 97 percent of UVB rays.)

o Apply it to the entire body (before you put on a bathing suit to ensure full coverage) 30 minutes before sun exposure.

o Re-apply every two hours or immediately after swimming, toweling off or excessive sweating.

o Sunscreen is recommended for use on infants who are six months or older.

Proper and routine sunscreen use helps prevent sunburn, reduce skin cancer risk and helps prevent early signs of skin aging.

In addition to sun exposure protection, the American Cancer Society and the Skin Cancer Foundation recommend avoiding UV tanning booths, examining your skin once per month and seeing a physician once per year for a professional skin evaluation. During the monthly self-examination, you should look for spots or sores that itch, hurt, scab or bleed; an open sore that does not heal within two weeks; and a skin growth, mole, brown spot or beauty mark that changes in color or texture, increases in size or thickness, is asymmetrical or irregular in border, is larger than 6 millimeter (size of a pencil eraser), or appears after age 21.

Reducing your risk of skin cancer should become a matter of habit, part of the daily routine.

Modeling the actions listed above demonstrates a gift of prevention that you can extend to family and friends for a lifetime.

Related Links:

American Cancer Society

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Skin Cancer Foundation