National UV Safety Month (July)

Many may be surprised to learn that the most common cancer in the United States is skin cancer (http://healthfinder.gov/). Your skin is your body's largest organ and protects you against heat, injury, sunlight, and infection. The harmful rays from the sun and indoor tanning bulbs can cause more problems than just skin cancer though! Health complications such as eye damage, weakened immune systems, age spots, wrinkles, and leathery skin are all results of UV damage.

Ultraviolet rays can reach you on cloudy or hazy days as well as bright and sunny days. These rays are also reflected of surfaces such as water, sand, snow and pavement. For the continental United States, UV exposure is more hazardous during the hours 10am to 4pm. By damaging the skin's cellular DNA, excessive UV radiation produces genetic mutations that can lead to skin cancer. The two types of UV rays to watch out for are UVA and UVB. UVA penetrates the skin deeper and is more likely to cause damage to the dermis layer resulting in premature aging and wrinkles. UVB is shorter and therefore can only penetrate the top layer. Therefore, it is UVB that is better known for causing the skin cancers squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma as well as sunburns. However recent evidence does support the role UVA plays in the deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma.

To protect yourself this year against these harmful rays remember to always seek shade when outdoors. Wearing wide-brim hats and sunglasses with UV protection can help prevent the eye damage caused by the suns rays. Applying sunscreen 20 minutes before going outside that was bought this year (bottles often expire yearly) and with an SPF of 15 or higher is an effective strategy to protect you and your loved ones from UV radiation. Sunscreen works by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering the sunlight before it can damage your skin. Remember to reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating.

Don't let fun in the sun turn deadly! Take an active role in protecting your skin and make these simple tips part of your daily routine.

Information provided by Megan Roper, student intern with Community Wellness at Augusta Health. To contact Dana Breeding, RN, relating to the information in this article, please call (540) 332-4988 or (540) 932-4988.