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Practice Safe Sun This Summer!

The Zimmerman File – July, 2011

Solar energy is one of the greatest of life’s gifts. It makes us feel good and we absorb the sun’s rays on our skin to make vitamin D. Many people think a beautiful golden tan denotes health and they spend too much time “working on their tan” either outside or in tanning salons. Sun is good for us – but only under certain conditions. It is possible to have a healthy “glow” to your skin but sunless tanning lotions are probably the only “safe” method of acquiring it. Moreover, organizations such as the Melanoma International Foundation work tirelessly to change the perception that tans are attractive. According to the Foundation, 1 in 50 Americans has a lifetime risk of developing melanoma. And it’s not just areas that are exposed to the sun, which suggests a genetic root.

Sun exposure comes from both ultraviolet A and B. Ultraviolet radiation falls in the middle of the electromagnetic spectrum – not as deadly as X-rays but nevertheless lethal to humans. In 2000, the National Institutes of Health issued a report on known carcinogens. Solar UV radiation and exposure to sunlamps and sunbeds are listed. It was noted that skin cancers are “Observed with increasing duration of exposure, and the effects are especially pronounced in individuals under 30 and for those who experience sunburn.”  So much for the carefree sunning days of college years!

UVA or UVB – Is one safer?
UVB rays penetrate cloud cover so that it is possible to get nasty sunburns even on overcast days. On sunny summer days, it can take as little as 20 minutes in the sun to burn – and you probably don’t even realize it. Tanning is considered evidence of sun damage and is a delayed reaction. Tanning salons began using UVA in an effort to avoid sunburn. However, UVA penetrates the deeper layers of the skin and is even more lethal than UVB. It can take years for sun damage to show up and repeated sunburns in youth can result in skin cancer as we get older. As the protective ozone layer is depleted by global warming, leading experts warn that skin cancer rates will climb. Sun exposure also hastens skin aging.

Practicing “Safe Sun”
Sun safety includes methods to protect you against solar exposure. They include wearing sun protective clothing, broad brimmed hats, sunglasses, sunscreens, umbrellas, sun shades, awnings, canopies, and use of window film or UV film. Additionally, you need to check the UV index in your area if you are planning an outdoor event.

The UV Index, developed by the National Weather Service and EPA, indicates the strength of solar UV radiation on a scale from 1 (low) to 11+ (extremely high). You can use the UV Index to plan for protecting yourself and avoid overexposure to UV radiation. The forecast maps change daily and you can get the UV index in your local area by entering your zip code. Sun protection measures for your area are posted so that you can properly prepare for time in the sun.  It is best to avoid sun exposure at solar noon when the UV rays are most intense.

UV Protection from sunscreens got a boost from the Food and Drug Administration in June 2011. FDA ruled that sunscreens that are at least 15 SPF (sun-protection factor) or greater, and offer protection from UVA and UVB (broad spectrum), can carry label claims stating that they protect against sunburn, early signs of aging, and skin cancer. Claims for “sunblock,” “waterproof” or “sweat proof” overstate a sunscreen’s abilities. Now consumers can look for just two things when choosing screens. Is the lotion broad spectrum and does it offer SPF 15, which blocks out 93 percent of UVA and UVB when applied correctly? A higher SPF doesn’t necessarily offer greater protection and claims of additional protection beyond SPF 50 are not allowed.  An adult needs about a golf ball sized dollop of sunscreen to fully cover the body.

Water Birds and Sunglasses
Have you ever seen water birds wearing sunglasses? UV rays are reflected from water and intensified. But water birds and other marine animals have high levels of carotenoids that protect them from UV damage. In fact, UV exposure to their eyes is an important adaptation for some species in attracting mates. ,  Our eyes are not so outfitted and our corneas must absorb most of the UV light. Therefore when near water, protect your eyes. Make sure to get lots of red, orange, yellow and green fruits and vegetables when enjoying your solar experience. Vitamin C, and the carotenoids, astaxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin might be added to your supplement regimen.

1  Melanoma Research Foundation: http://www.melanoma.org/learn-more/melanoma-101/causes-melanoma
2  NIH News Release-FACT SHEET: “The Report on Carcinogens” – 9th edition. http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/may2000?niehs-15.htm.
3  Environmental Protection Agency http://oaspub.eps.gov/enviro/uv_search.
4  Bushwick, S; “Full Exposure: How Will The FDA’s Sunscreen Regulations Help Prevent Skin Cancer?” Sci. Amer. June 27, 2011.  http://www.scientificaqmerican.com/article.cfm?id=full-exposure-how-will-fda.
5  Indiviglio F.; “UV Sensitivity in Parrots and UV Protection for People – A Relationship? That Bird Blog http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatbirdblog/2010/0831/uv-sensitivity-in-parrots-and-uv-protection-for-people-a-relationship/.
6  Carvalho LS; et al; “Ultraviolet-Sensitive Vision in Long-Lived Birds” Proc Royal Society 2011;278:107-114.