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Safety in the Sun

Safety in the Sun

One of the many perks for working for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is being able to work outdoors. But it does come with some health risks. Almost all of us can remember a really bad sunburn that happened sometime in our lives. Sunburn, skin cancers, and other sun-related adverse health effects are largely preventable when sun protection is practiced early and consistently. Despite the fact that sun tanning and burning increase skin cancer risks, most Americans do not protect themselves from the sun's damaging rays.

Listed below are the latest "Skin Cancer/Sun Safety Facts" compiled from the leading health authorities in the United States (U.S.).

  • Approximately one out of every five children in the U.S. today will grow up to have some form of skin cancer.
  • Just one blistering sunburn before the age of 18 may double the risk of eventually developing melanoma (a life-threatening type of skin cancer) later in life.
  • About 80 percent of a person's total lifetime ultraviolet (UV) exposure occurs in the first 18 years of life.
  • It can take less than 10 minutes for a child's unprotected skin to sunburn.
  • Approximately 70 percent of American adults do not protect themselves from the dangerous rays.
  • Skin cancer is one of only two forms of cancer whose incident rates are increasing, rather than decreasing, in the U.S.
  • Melanoma cases have nearly doubled in the U.S. in the past two decades.
  • Most skin cancers are caused by over exposure to the sun's UV rays.
  • One American dies every hour from skin cancer.
  • Half of all new cancers are skin cancers.
  • In 1930 your risk of developing melanoma was 1:1500 people. Today it is 1:75.
  • Reducing sunburn is the single most preventable risk factor for melanoma.
  • 85 percent of sunlight can reflect off of sand, concrete, water, and snow.
  • Up to 80 percent of UV rays can penetrate through clouds.
  • UV intensity increases about 4 percent for every 1000 feet you go up in elevation.
  • Exposure to UV radiation can decrease the effectiveness of the immune system.
  • 60 percent of daily UV “B” (UVB) reaches the earth's surface between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Because of the likely link between severe sunburns in childhood and greatly increased risk of melanoma later in life, children, in particular should be protected from the sun.

How Can I Protect Myself from the Effects of the Sun?

The best sun protection is provided when all the sun-safe behaviors are practiced together. Sun protection habits include:

  • Limit sun exposure during the hours when the sun's rays are the strongest, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. To the extent possible, people should limit their exposure to the sun during these hours and practice all of the sun protective behaviors. Your shadow is an indicator of the sun's intensity. If your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun is at its highest intensity. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) has established the “Shadow Rule: No Shadow—SEEK SHADE.”
  • Refer to the daily UV Index when planning outdoor events. The UV Index is a daily forecast of the intensity of the sun's UV rays. The Index indicates the risk of overexposure to skin-damaging UV radiation and can be used to help plan outdoor activities to minimize overexposure.
  • Seek shade whenever possible. Shade structures such as trees and umbrellas provide year round protection. Although trees do not offer complete sun protection, they provide about 60 percent blockage from the sun's rays.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and long-sleeved, tightly woven clothing. Clothing can physically block out the sun's harmful rays and should be one of the first lines of defense against sun exposure. Sunglasses should block out 100 percent of UV “A” (UVA) and UVB radiation to protect the eyes from damage. Hats are the best way to minimize UV radiation exposure to the face, head, ears, and neck.
  • Use broad-spectrum sunscreens whose active ingredients block UVA and UVB rays. The sun protective factor (SPF) should be a minimum of 15. Sunscreens should be used every day, including cloudy days. They should be applied liberally and evenly before going out into the sun and should be applied frequently, especially after swimming.
  • Avoid tanning salons. Artificial UV radiation is just as bad for your skin as sunlight. Most tanning devices use UVA rays which have been shown to go deeper into the skin and contribute to premature wrinkling and skin cancer (AAD, 1994).
  • Limit exposure to the reflective surfaces like snow and water. UV rays can be reflected off of sand, tile, water, snow, and buildings. It is important to practice all the sun protective behaviors even when you are in the shade.

By making the above precautions a part of any outdoor activity, your risk for sun damage to your body is greatly reduced. Enjoy the great outdoors!