May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, so bone up on your prevention facts.
Everyone loves the sunshine, but too much of a good thing now could create major health problems for you later on. Because of the risk of skin cancer, you need to adopt sun-safe behaviors year-round, and avoid intentional exposure to natural sunlight and its harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
UV light, even if it comes from an artificial source, is a carcinogen. More than 1 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, outnumbering all other cancers combined, according to the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention.
While the use of sunscreen is standard practice, your clothing also protects you from harmful UV rays, regardless of the season. "You should wear tightly woven clothing to block out the sun," says Dr. Carl Wurster, chair of the Allied Health Department at Brown Mackie College - Boise. "Khaki-type materials work well. You can look to the military to see the textures worn by the British in India, the French Foreign Legion in Africa and even our troops in Afghanistan. They all usually wear tightly woven materials."
Before there was sunscreen, cowboys knew that even though it gets pretty hot on the Chisholm Trail, wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts, leather vests, long pants and bandanas could protect them from the sun. "It all has to do with coverage. The more skin you cover, the better off you are. It was not about the heat, but all about skin protection," Wurster says.
If you look at the wardrobes for those who live in equatorial countries, you'll find that their traditional dress includes sombreros and long sleeves. European aristocrats also knew how to prevent sun overexposure. "If you look at the nobility of 17th- and 18th-century England, they were called bluebloods because they were so pale you could see the veins in their arms. The peasants who worked in the fields were called rednecks because of the tans they received on their necks from working in the hot sun," Wurster says. "The wealthy landowners never went outside without wearing a big floppy hat."
"If you think about the movie, 'Gone With the Wind,' the women wore big bonnets and carried parasols, regardless of the heat because they were trying to block out the sun," he adds. Concerns over skin protection from the sun took a back seat when the Industrial Revolution began. "People who used to work in the fields moved into the factories and became bluebloods - physically. The aristocrats stayed on their farming estates. So, there was a complete turnaround in their clothing."
Whether you wear clothes made out of tightly woven material, or not - sunscreen is a must. "You should use one with 50 SPF (sun protection factor)," he said. The Council also recommends seeking the shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., generously applying sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or higher, and wearing sun-protective clothing, including wide brimmed hats and UV-protective sunglasses. If you're doing yard work, walking around or swimming you need to do frequent re-applications. "Re-apply the sunscreen one hour later because with perspiration you may lose some of it," adds Wurster. Pay particular attention to children and teenagers because early exposure to the sun can be hazardous to their health over time. Wurster also recommends teaching children to wear wide-brimmed hats - just like you teach them to wear bike helmets.
While some people mainly think about sunscreen at the beach, you can also experience sunburns in mountain areas anytime of the year. "You can put zinc oxide cream on your nose before you go skiing on snow or even water skiing," Wurster says. Sun exposure should be a concern every day you go outside. That's why the American Cancer Society promotes "Slip! Slop! Slap ... and Wrap" as a catch phrase to help you remember the four ways to protect yourself from UV radiation:
* Slip on a shirt.
* Slop on sunscreen.
* Slap on a hat.
* Wrap on sunglasses to protect the eyes and sensitive skin around them.
When used simultaneously, these health conscious steps can provide year-round sun protection.