By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Protect your skin from sun's rays
Health advice
Placeholder Image
While running errands last week I spotted a young boy, somewhere around the age of 8 or 9. Fair-skinned and red-haired, he was wearing a skimpy, sleeveless top and must have been very uncomfortable given his severe sunburn. Actually, it looked like he had a sunburn on top of a sunburn — large areas of skin across his back, shoulders and arms were peeling and revealing angry, bright red splotches. I looked for an accompanying adult but couldn’t find one. I’m not sure what I would have said, but I felt I needed to say something to that neglectful adult.
Children, with their sensitive skin, are especially vulnerable to the sun. While skin cancer is uncommon in children, the damage that leads to it is accumulated in childhood, and more adolescents are being diagnosed with skin cancer than ever before. It’s crucial that kids wear plenty of sun block (at least SPF 30), as well as protective clothing such as hats and shirts when they’re out in the sun.
More than 1 million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year. Anyone can get skin cancer. Although most cases occur in people older than 50 with fair skin, cancer can also develop in younger people and those with dark skin. In general, an individual’s lifetime exposure to UV light determines their risk. An adult’s risk of skin cancer usually is decided during childhood (when most people get the majority of their lifetime sun exposure). Individuals at greater risk for skin cancer include people who:
• Have light skin that freckles easily and tends to burn rather than tan. Individuals with blond or red hair and blue or light gray eyes often have fair skin. The skin type can help determine an individual’s risk.
• Live in geographic regions closer to the equator, where sunlight is strongest. Residents of Florida, Texas and southern California, for instance, have a greater risk than those in Maine, Wisconsin and North Dakota.
• Work outdoors or spend lots of time in leisure activities in the sun.
• Already have had skin cancer. A diagnosis of skin cancer means that an individual has a higher-then-normal risk for the disease. These individuals must take great care to minimize UV exposure and follow other preventive measures.
Nearly half of all new cancers are skin cancers. Both basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma have a better than 95 percent cure rate if detected and treated early. Early detection and treatment is especially important when dealing with melanoma because it can metastasize to other parts of the body — more than 77 percent of skin-cancer deaths are from melanoma. Melanoma is the fifth-most-common cancer in men and the seventh-most-common cancer in women. Statistics show that one person dies of melanoma every hour. Alarming, isn’t it?
Dermatologists warn that the sun is most dangerous between the hours of 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
In all types of skin cancer, early detection is the answer. It is therefore strongly recommended that everyone check their skin regularly for any abnormal growths or unusual changes. This helps you detect and treat skin cancer (or other skin abnormalities) as early as possible.
Melanoma detection guidelines: Look for these danger signs in pigmented lesions of the skin. Consult your dermatologist immediately if any of your moles or pigmented spots exhibit:
A – Asymmetry: one half unlike the other half
B – Border: irregular, scalloped or poorly circumscribed border
C – Color: color varies from one area to another; shades of tan and brown, black, sometimes white, red or blue.
D - Diameter larger than 6 millimeters as a rule (diameter of a pencil eraser).
To prevent skin cancer, always protect yourself from the sun by wearing hats, UV-treated sunglasses, protective clothing and waterproof sun block with SPF 15 or greater. Make sure one of the main ingredients of your sun block is a strong blocking agent, like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Also look for sun blocks that protect against both ultraviolet-B rays (UVB) and ultraviolet-A (UVA) rays.
Some people think tanning salons offer a preemptive strike against skin cancer. But that is not true! A Brown University Medical School study found people who used tanning salons when they were younger were nearly three times more likely to get squamous cell carcinoma and one and a half times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma than those who didn’t use tanning salons. A recent study showed that some people actually become “tanoholics” and experience a good mood equivalent to a small narcotic or nicotine fix when they soak up the sun or visit tanning booths. Regardless of the temporary mood elevation, it’s a bad idea.
Last, if you know the kid I described earlier, please talk to his parents about the potential consequences of not protecting his skin today.

Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.
Sign up for our E-Newsletters