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Wednesday, Apr. 23, 2014

Protection from harmful sun rays can help prevent long-term trouble

Monday, June 7, 2004

(Photo)
Mindy Towe, a lifeguard at the Sikeston Country Club swimming pool, puts on sun screen.
SIKESTON - Would you go outside in the snow for a prolonged period of time without wearing warm clothes, a coat and gloves? Would you let your child?

Chances are, probably not. Yet, many people go out into the sun without any protection, which is just as harmful.

"Sunlight is bad for human skin - period," said Dr. Kenneth Dempsey, a dermatologist at Ferguson Medical Group.

With the onset of summer, people are beginning to spend more time outside, whether for family vacations or outdoor recreational activities, such as sports and barbecues.

While outdoors, health professionals advise wearing sunscreen at all times. "Anytime you're going to be out in the sun for a long period of time, its very important to put sunscreen on," said Brenda Freed, Health Educator at the Scott County Health Department.

Freed added: "It is so important that you do this for kids because the most damage occurs before the age of 18. Whether they are playing baseball, whether they are riding a bike, it is important to use sunscreen." Freed also emphasizes the importance of wearing sunscreen in the water, since water reflects the sun's rays.

Many people do not know how to select the correct type of sunscreen. "There are so many out there, it is a nightmare to choose," she said. "Make sure you apply sunscreen with SPF of 15 or greater."

She also provided a formula to choose the correct SPF. The SPF factor indicates how much longer one can stay in the sun without getting burned. For instance, someone who usually burns in 20 minutes without wearing sunscreen should be protected for up to 300 minutes, or 15 (SPF factor) times the original time when wearing sunscreen.

"You need Type A and Type B protection," Dempsey and Freed agreed.

Type A protection screens UVA rays, which are also found in tanning beds. Contrary to what many people, especially advocates of tanning believe, these rays are dangerous. They cause skin aging, wrinkling and may lead to skin cancer.

On the other hand, UVB rays also signal danger, in contributing to the cause of sunburns, immune system damage and skin cancer.

Dempsey partially credits the "epidemic of skin cancer" to ignorance of how harmful the sun's rays are. "More people are ignoring what their ancestors knew," he said.

"They didn't wear hats on accident," Dempsey said, "they knew."

Previous to the 20th century, being pale was viewed as a luxury to many. Freed related: "a tan meant you had to work. Wealthy and to-do people stayed out of the sun and wore hats and gloves when outside."

This attitude was altered by French designer Coco Chanel. In the 1920s, she returned from a vacation with a deep tan, transforming the tan into an indication of wealth.

"There is no such thing as a safe tan or burn," Dempsey said.

According to the Missouri Department of Health, "a child's skin is thinner than that of an adult and is more sensitive to ultraviolet light from sunlight." For this reason, Dempsey emphasizes: "children should be protected."

Freed agreed this is "especially important for little kids. Use sunscreen and seek shade - if there aren't any trees, put up an umbrella."

"For adults, it is good to wear proper clothing: a wide-brim hat and long sleeve shirt," she said. "Drink plenty of water and avoid soft drinks.

" "A hat does not protect enough," Dempsey said. "People need sunscreen and cover for their body."

Dempsey once again pointed out history. "Look at the exhibits in the basement of the St. Louis Arch," he says, "they weren't wearing bikinis."

Freed recommended sunscreen be applied 30 minutes to an hour before going outside. "It is sometimes hard to remember before, but if you do forget, put it on as soon as you remember."

Use extra caution when being in the water. "Check to be sure you are using a waterproof sunscreen," Freed said. "You will also need to reapply more often while you are in the water." Usually, it is best to reapply sunscreen every two hours.

The Missouri Department of Health advises outdoor activity be reduced from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. if at all possible, since the sun's rays are most powerful during these hours.

It is also important to be sure that eyes are protected, by wearing sunglasses that block 100 percent of the UVA and UVB radiation. "Sun damage to the eye can cause cataracts," Freed said.

Freed also advises taking into account any medicines being taken. "Different types of medicines make you more sensitive, so be sure to check with your doctor," she said.

If you do get burnt, Freed offers some remedies. "A cool bath, products like aloe vera gel, if there is pain use Tylenol or Motrin to help relieve the pain," she said. "If severe, contact a physician," Freed stressed.

Do not use products like Vaseline. Freed explained these products are petroleum-based and will trap heat inside the skin.

In addition to wearing sunscreen and covering up, remember not to overindulge. "Anytime you overindulge, it's probably not going to be healthy for you, whether it's tanning, eating, gambling or whatever," Freed said.