Guidelines for being safe when out in the sun are evolving.
For years doctors and safety experts have preached the importance of being smart about sun exposure. Considering skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in Canada and the U.S., according to statistics published by the leading cancer organizations in both countries, many people have long heeded the warnings. Although many of the precautions remain the same, this season individuals may want to pay attention to some of the newer information about sun safety.
UV Rays and the Ozone Layer
The sun is responsible for life on the planet as we know it. Without sunlight, plants would fail to thrive and there would not be adequate warmth to heat up the planet. Still, the sun is a double-edged sword. The warming rays responsible for life can also be detrimental. A primary component of sun rays -- ultraviolet rays -- can cause skin and eye damage.
UV rays come in three types:
1. UVA: These rays cause skin aging and wrinkling and contribute to skin cancer, such as melanoma. They are the most common UV rays to reach people.
2. UVB: These rays are also damaging, but the ozone layer blocks much of them from passing through. Some do make it through and can be harmful.
3. UVC: These rays might be lesser known to the general public, but they are the most harmful. These rays are blocked by the ozone layer in the atmosphere and don't reach the earth.
Although the ozone layer filters much of the harmful ultraviolet radiation, the thinning of the ozone layer due to greenhouse gases and other effects of human life poses a problem. Some portions of the ozone layer are depleting. Contrary to what some people may think, thinning of the ozone layer is more pronounced at the poles of the earth rather than in the equator region. There is a large area of thinning over Antarctica, which some scientists believe correlates to a weather phenomenon called a "polar vortex." This is when air is blown around the planet and atmosphere and is isolated over Antarctica during the winter. This air contains global pollutants, which break down the ozone layer.
Changes to Sun Protection Guidelines
Although very thin patches in the ozone layer are sparsely located at the poles, the overall concentration of ozone in the stratosphere fluctuates. Thinning resulting from chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, and nitrogen oxides in the air has compromised the ozone to the point that greater precautions may be necessary to protect the body from UV rays.
* It is widely known that the sun is responsible for producing vitamin D in the body. That vitamin D works in concert with calcium to produce strong bones. Vitamin D is sometimes known as the "sunshine vitamin." Three-quarters of U.S. teens and adults are deficient in vitamin D, according to information in the Archives of Internal Medicine. While the old way of thinking was to get 20 minutes of unprotected sun exposure a day to generate vitamin D, new thinking offers that supplements and fortified foods are the safest way to get vitamin D, especially for those who are deficient.
* Err on the side of caution when applying sunscreen. It's not just about applying some and reapplying a half-hour later. Because the level of dosage cannot be adequately measured, it's best to play it safe and apply a thick coat of sunscreen. Apply as frequently as you'd like, especially if you have been swimming or sweating and feel that the protection could be waning. Pay special attention to the back of the hands, back of legs, neck and where swimsuits can bunch up skin to create higher points that the sun will touch first. And use the highest SPFyou can find. This way if enough isn't applied, it still may offer better protection than a low SPF.
* Sunscreen alone may not be enough. People should think about wearing clothing that also offers sun protection. A thin cover-up or T-shirt will not offer protection. In fact, the sun can get through and it is like wearing nothing at all. Look for special clothing that offers an SPF.
* Some dermatologists also advise wearing a sunblock and an antioxidant-enriched moisturizer. The sun can cause free radicals that break down elastin in the skin, causing wrinkles and drying. A moisturizer can help combat this.
* There has been a long-standing rule that tanning beds are not a safe way to get a tan. That information has not changed. Tanning beds dish out harmful UVA and UVB rays. They're not a safe way to develop a "base tan" to make skin less susceptible to burns.
Staying smart about sun exposure means keeping abreast of the changes to sun-safety guidelines. People should put caution first when venturing out into the great outdoors this warm-weather season.