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Times of the Islands Magazine

Respecting the Sun - Everything you need to know to protect your skin this summer

Jun 22, 2015 09:18AM ● By Cory Batelaan

Everything you need to know to protect your skin this summer

By Matthew Solan

We all know Florida as the Sunshine State, but it has another name: “sunburn state.” Our year-round outdoor activities, from golf to fishing to boating to beach lounging, make sun exposure part of everyday life in paradise. So it may come as no surprise that Florida has the country’s second highest incidents of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, and more than 600 Floridians die from the disease each year.

“It is great that we can get outdoors 365 days a year and enjoy Florida’s unique weather and climate, but that luxury comes with the responsibility to be more diligent about our sun exposure.” — Andrea Cambio, MD of Cambio Dermatology in Cape Coral

You don’t need to fear the sun, but to protect yourself from its dark side you need to understand how those warming rays affect your body.

A New Look at the Sun

First off, you need to rethink the ideal of a glowing suntan. A bronzed body is not as healthy-looking as you may think. A suntan is your skin’s way of showing damage from the sun.

When your skin tans, melanin, the skin’s dark pigment in the top layer of the skin (called the epidermis) is activated as a protectant against sun radiation. The darker your tan, the more damage. Over time the onslaught of skin damage accelerates the appearance of aging and causes pre-mature wrinkles, sagging skin, brown “age” spots, freckles and blotchy complexion.

But it is what happens beneath the skin’s surface that is the greatest concern.

Whenever you get sunburned, your risk of skin cancer goes up. In fact, estimates have found that as few as five sunburns over your lifetime doubles your skin cancer risk.

How does the sun cause cancer from 93 million miles away? The sun delivers a constant bombardment of invisible ultraviolet (UV) rays. There are three types of UV rays, but only two break through the atmosphere: UVA and UVB. UVA accounts for about 95 percent of the UV radiation, and these rays are the main cause of premature aging, wrinkles and uneven pigmentation. UVB is the chief cause of sunburns.

However, both are involved in long-term damage to the DNA in skin cells. When this occurs, the skin cells mutate, and cancer is the frequent result.

There are five types of skin cancer. Here is a look at each and how to identify them.

Actinic Keratosis is precancerous lesions and common for anyone living in a subtropics zone like Florida. They appear as crusty or scaly spots. If caught early, these are highly treatable.

Basal Cell Carcinomas are the most frequently diagnosed skin cancers. They can appear as red, shiny patches or bumps or open sores and rarely spread. Warning signs include an open sore that bleeds, oozes or crusts, remains open and heals, then bleeds again. Once you have had one basal cell carcinoma, rate of recurrence is high. If caught early, however, cure rates are 90 to 95 percent.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma appears as red, scaly spots, crusty warts or raised, bumpy areas with central depressions. Although they can develop anywhere on the body, they most often appear on areas with the greatest sun exposure like the face, ears, scalp and neck. They may bleed and can grow rapidly. They too are curable if caught early.

Melanoma often resembles moles or they can develop from moles. The majority of melanomas are black or brown, but they can also be skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue or white. Most tend to look abnormal, if not downright ugly.

Since melanoma has such varied appearances, the American Academy of Dermatology and the Skin Cancer Foundation widely publicize the following A, B, C, D, E method of identifying potential melanomas:

A—Asymmetry. The shape of one half of the lesion does not match the other half.

B—Border. The edges are ragged, notched, blurred or otherwise irregular.

C—Color. The color of the area is not uniform and could include shades of brown, black and tan, with streaks of red, white or blue.

D—Diameter. Melanomas are usually greater than 6 millimeters (about one quarter-inch) when diagnosed, but they can be smaller.

E—Evolving. The growth is changing in size, shape, color or thickness, or it’s beginning to itch, bleed and form a crust.

Cure rates for the deadliest skin cancer depends upon the stage at which the melanoma was first discovered and treated. When melanoma is detected before it reaches deeper than the outer layers of the skin, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent. When detected later, the survival rate drops to below 50 percent, and in some cases below 20 percent. Left unchecked, melanoma will easily spread to other body organs.

Melanoma is much more common among non-Hispanic whites than people of other races and ethnicities. In fact, more than nine out of 10 cases of melanoma are diagnosed in non-Hispanic whites, according to the American Cancer Society.

While no one is safe from sun exposure, people with light skin and freckles, red hair and blue, gray or green eyes tend to be the most susceptible. Also, if you have a close relative with melanoma, you are at even a greater risk.

Dysplastic Nevi are also unusual-looking moles that can resemble melanoma, but are not cancerous themselves. However, these moles can mean you are at a higher risk for melanoma than the general population. The risk increases by the number of these nevi on your skin. Like melanoma, dysplastic nevi can be large, irregular in shape, colored red, blue, brown or black, and raised, flat or bumpy.

Protect Yourself


Whenever you get sunburned, your risk of skin cancer goes up. In fact, estimates have found that as few as five sunburns over your lifetime doubles your skin cancer risk.

Scary as it might sound, do not let all this frighten you from enjoying the great outdoors. You can still have fun in the sun by protecting yourself from sun exposure and skin cancer with these tips from Dr. Cambio:
  1. Sunscreen. Before going outside, no matter for how long, slather on a sun protection factor (SPF) 30 to 50. (Don’t be fooled by brands that boast PF 70 or 90; it is a marketing ploy and does not offer added protection.) Look for ones that contain the ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
Sunscreens are water resistant—not waterproof. Reapply every two hours especially when swimming or sweating. “Towel off completely and then re-apply,” says Dr. Cambio. Besides the obvious areas like face and neck, make sure to cover often-ignored parts like ears, hands, top of your head, lips and tops of the feet.

Spray? Gel? Cream? It doesn’t matter. Choose one you like and is easy to apply. Be sure to apply a sunscreen 20 minutes before being exposed to the sun, and reapply every two hours.

  1. Clothing. Always dress the part. Many garments now offer an Ultraviolet Protection Fabric (UPF) label similar to the SPF of sunscreens that indicates the level of UV protection. For instance, UPF from 15 to 24 blocks 93 to 95.9 percent of UVs; 25 to 39 blocks 96 to 97.4 of UVs, and 40 to 50 and higher blocks 97.5 to 98 percent.
Long-sleeved shirts (made of tightly-woven synthetic fabric) and a collar are a must. Fabrics with a sheen deflect more UV rays, and dark colors offer better protection than whites or pastels, says Cambio. Although light cotton is cooler to wear, it does not offer much protection.

Sun arm sleeves also are great options to wear with short-sleeve shirts. They offer up to 99 percent protection for UV rays and help wick away sweat. Also, always wear a hat with a wide brim that provides shade to both your entire face and neck.

  1. Sunglasses. Opt for fitted sunglasses with no gaps around the lens as this further blocks sunlight reflection. Also consider these extras:
  • Blue-blocking lenses make distant objects easier to see.
  • Polarized lenses reduce reflected glare, such as sunlight that bounces off water.
  • Photochromic lenses darken or lighten as the amount of available light changes.
  • Mirror-coated lenses reduce visible light.
  • Gradient lenses, dark on the top and lighter on the bottom, reduce glare while allowing you to see clearly.
  1. Take Cover. Always seek the opportunity to enjoy shade. Stay under the canopy on the boat as much as possible, and stay in the golf cart or under a tree between shots. “Every little break from the sun just further reduces your skin cancer risk,” says Cambio. Another simple sun shield is an umbrella. “It may look funny, but it's a sure-fire way to protect a large area of your body.”
  2. Get Checked Out. Finally, see a dermatologist annually for a full body check.

Matthew Solan is a freelance writer based in St. Petersburg. Learn more about him at



[divider]Sun Reflections[/divider]

Here is some basic information to help protect yourself from the sun.

  • Time of DayUV rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Plan your outdoor activities for either early morning or late afternoon and early evening.
  • Cloud Cover Don’t get fooled by cloudy days. Up to 90 percent of UV rays penetrate cloud cover. Even if you don’t feel the sun on your skin, UV rays can still get you.
  • Reflection off SurfacesUV rays can bounce off surfaces like water, sand, pavement or even grass.
  • Check the UV Index On the Internet, in newspapers, or on television weather reports, you’ll find the index, which ranges from a low of one to a high of 11. Take extra precautions when the index is high.