Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Protecting Yourself in the Summer: The Summer Sun

As summer approaches it is important to have a plan for maximizing both fun and safety.  One very important consideration is protecting your skin during all those outdoor sporting events (and days at the beach) to minimize your risk of skin cancer.  The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) does a great job of delineating the things you can do to protect yourself from the sun, ultimately reducing your risk of skin cancer through an initiative called SPOT Skin Cancer.  The AAD uses the phrase, “Prevent. Detect. Live.” to highlight key components of how to successfully prevent skin cancer.  The purpose of this blog post today is use some of the resources provided by the AAD to familiarize you with some easy steps you can take to decrease your risk of getting a sunburn and/or skin cancer.

 Some of you may have heard the phrase, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and that definitely holds true when enjoying the summer sun safely.  It’s much easier to prevent sunburns and other medical concerns than it is to treat them once they happen.  So, let’s focus on the things you can do to minimize your risk. 

According to the AAD the keys to prevention are:

·         Seek shade when appropriate
·         Wear protective clothing
·         Wear a broad-spectrum, water-resistant, sunscreen
·         Use extra care near water, snow and sand
·         Avoid tanning beds

For those of us who are athletes (and their parents) attending day-long tournaments and events, finding enough shade can be particularly challenging.  It can be a challenge for a few reasons, not the least of which is the rules of the sport or venue design may not be set up to allow for access to shade during the athletic event.  Additionally, athletic facilities may not offer shaded areas that athletes can utilize between games or matches.  Despite these difficulties it may not be impossible to create your own shade by bringing a tarp to put over an open dugout to create shade for the team when on the bench or consider bringing a portable tent so that you can at least create some shade between games/events.  Also, you should avoid being in the sun during its peak “shining hours” of 10a – 2p, if possible.

Another recommendation that may be potentially challenging for athletes to comply with is wearing appropriate protective clothing.  This clothing can be anything from long sleeve shirts, long pants, a hat and/or sunglasses.  While some activities have uniform requirements that may coincide with these recommendations, others may not.  The one positive in all this is that clothing technology as it relates to “heat gear” and “cold gear” is very common so that there are considerably more options for athletes than previously available.  If possible (since I’m aware some of this clothing can be more expensive), it may be worth investigating the viability of covering up more when spending long periods of time in the sun, especially if sunscreen isn’t as effective as you’d like or opportunities for shade are limited.

The final recommendation I am going to address today is the use of sunscreen.  The AAD recommends the use of a broad spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30.  It is recommended that you reapply at least every 2 hours, even on cloudy day.  Before I go into a bit more detail about selecting a sunscreen it is important to know that because of a recent FDA requirement the labels on your sunscreen will be changing this summer (2013).  Look for the following on your sunscreen label:

·         It will state clearly whether the sunscreen prevents sunburn and skin cancer or sunburn only.  There are two tests it must pass to state it prevents skin cancer (see the above link).
·         It will carry the following warning if it does not provide broad spectrum coverage and at least an SPF of 15:  This product has only been shown to prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early aging.

·         The FDA will ban companies from using the term, “waterproof” or “sweatproof”.  This is not possible and you will now see the term “water resistant”.

For more information you can also check out this press release, “American Academy of Dermatology Association Welcomes New FDA Sunscreen Rules”.

It is important to know that everyone should use sunscreen, no matter their natural complexion. It should take approximately 1 ounce of sunscreen to cover the exposed areas of the body (one shot glass). 

According to a handout developed by the AAD users should select a broad spectrum, water-resistant, SPF 30 or higher sunscreen, but what does this mean? 

·         A broad spectrum sunscreen means that is protects against both UVA and UVB rays, both of which can cause cancer. 

·         A water-resistant sunscreen means that when tested it provides protection for 40 – 80 minutes.  If you will be wearing sunscreen in the water, it is especially important to re-apply, likely every hour or so, instead of two hours. 

·         The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 30 sunscreens will block approximately 97% of the sun’s harmful rays, higher sunscreens will block slightly more, but no sunscreen is 100% effective.  Higher SPF sunscreens should also be reapplied every 2 hours or as recommended on the label, the higher SPF does not mean you can go longer without reapplying. 

In the end, wearing sunscreen is one of the best defenses against sunburn and skin cancer but, it needs to be used appropriately.  That means applying it at least 15 minutes before you go outside so that it can dry.  Reapplying at regular intervals and using enough sunscreen to maximize its effect.  More people are wearing sunscreen but, many of them do not apply enough to exposed areas to make the sunscreen maximally effective.


So, go ahead, get ready to enjoy the summer sun, just do it safely!  If you have additional questions about sunscreens and how best to protect yourself check out these FAQs from the American Academy of Dermatology.
Submitted by Heather L Clemons, MS, MBA, ATC

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