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College of Human Ecology

K-State expert advocates protection from sun when outdoors

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Whether it´s to the beach, baseball games, gardening or some other pursuit, people typically spend more time outdoors during the summer.

The extra activity may be good, but summer is also when the sun´s intensity is at its highest, said Mike Bradshaw, Kansas State University Research and Extension health and safety specialist. That´s especially a problem when sun lovers forget to apply or reapply sunscreen as directed by the manufacturer.

Because skin cancer affects more people in the United States than any other type of cancer, it is important that people understand the risks associated with too much exposure to the sun and know how to protect themselves from the ultraviolet rays of the sun, Bradshaw said. While skin cancer is the most dangerous effect that the sun can have on the body, too much sun exposure can also cause eye problems, unsightly skin spots, wrinkles, "leathery" skin and less ability to fight disease, Bradshaw said.

"Usually people with dark hair and eyes have more melanin and are at less risk of being sunburned, but anyone can burn if they´re in the sun long enough," Bradshaw said. Young children and people with fair skin or freckles; blonde, red or light brown hair; and blue or light green eyes can be more susceptible to sunburn.

"Children are also at a higher risk because they don´t understand the health risks associated with the sun exposure and the importance of protecting themselves from the sun," he said.

Those who work outdoors, but seldom use sunscreen and those who have a family history of skin cancer, or who have experienced several sunburns are at risk of developing skin cancer and other sun-related adverse health problems, Bradshaw said. Similarly, those who use tanning beds or who sunbathe with the goal of getting a tan are also at risk.

To protect the eyes and skin from the sun, Bradshaw recommends that people follow these safety steps:

oAvoid the sun between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. when sun rays are the hottest and most intense. If outdoors during this time, try to stay in the shade.

oApply a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or higher 30 minutes before going outside and then reapply as directed by the manufacturer. Sunscreens with an SPF greater than 15 won´t provide better protection, but will protect for a longer time, as long as the sunscreen remains on the skin. Sunscreen should not be used on children younger than six months of age.

oCover exposed areas of the body (including arms and legs) with lightweight clothing, and wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect the head, face, eyes, ears and neck.

oWear sunglasses with a 99 percent UV ray protection.

oEat more fruits and vegetables to reduce the risk of macular degeneration. According to the Mayo Clinic Web site (www.mayoclinic.com) macular degeneration occurs when tissue in the macula deteriorates and causes either blurred vision or a blind spot in the center of the visual field.

oAvoid sunlamps and tanning beds that generate harmful UV light, which can cause cancer. Also, avoid tanning pills that contain a large amount of color additive that may be harmful. According to a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) online report on sun safety, tanning pills have not been approved by the FDA.

Self-tanning products such as sunless tanning lotions that work by dying the top layer of the skin are a safe alternative to tanning beds and the sun, Bradshaw said. Self-tanning lotions have improved significantly over the past few years.

This article was posted on Wednesday, May 30, 2007, and is filed under College News.