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Play it safe in the sun

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The start of the summer season is a good time to be reminded of the importance of being safe in the sun. Summer's arrival means it's time for picnics, trips to the pool and a spike in the number of sunburns.

While a bronzed skin used to be desirable, we now know that exposure to the sun can cause skin cancer. Harmful rays from the sun -- and from sunlamps and tanning beds -- may also cause eye problems, weaken the immune system and cause skin spots, wrinkles or "leathery" skin.

Skin cancer is on the rise in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that one American dies every hour from skin cancer.

In 2012 alone, there will be more than 76,250 new cases of malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.

It's important to limit sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun's rays are strongest. Even on an overcast day, up to 80 percent of the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays can get through the clouds. Stay in the shade as much as possible throughout the day.

An application of sunscreen is important when spending time in the sun. Check the product label and look for the following:

* A "sun protection factor" (SPF) of 15 or more. SPF represents the degree to which a sunscreen can protect the skin from sunburn. Some groups, including the American Academy of Dermatology, recommend an SPF of 30.

* "Broad spectrum" protection -- sunscreen that protects against all types of skin damage caused by sunlight.

* Water resistance -- sunscreen that stays on the skin longer even if it gets wet. Reapply water-resistant sunscreens as instructed on the label.

Apply the recommended amount of sunscreen evenly to all uncovered skin, especially the lips, nose, ears, neck, hands and feet. It takes about one ounce to cover exposed arms, legs, neck and face -- that's about a palmful. If you don't have much hair, apply sunscreen to the top of your head or wear a hat.

Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going out in the sun. Reapply at least every two hours.

Give babies and children extra care in the sun. Babies younger than 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight. Ask a health care professional before applying sunscreen to children under 6 months old. Apply sunscreen to children older than 6 months every time they go out.

Sunlight reflecting off sand or water further increases exposure to UV radiation and increases the risk of developing eye problems. When buying sunglasses, look for a label that specifically offers 99 to 100 percent UV protection. Wraparound sunglasses offer the most protection.

People who wear contact lenses that offer UV protection should still wear sunglasses. Children should wear real sunglasses (not toy sunglasses) that indicate the UV protection level.

Be sure you and your family are safe every day in the sun. Remember to take these simple steps to prevent sun-related skin cancer:

* Slip on a shirt.

* Slop on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher.

* Slap on a wide-brimmed hat.

* Wrap on sunglasses.

Have a fun and safe summer.

Ann Ludlum
FCS Agent, Southwind District
Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Southwind District -- Fort Scott office. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720 or aludlum@ksu.edu.