No one is completely safe from the sun.
It’s a bittersweet thought that the same sunbeams that can make us feel so good can also create some serious shadows on us in today’s world. While striving to be as healthy and fit as possible I’m once again facing a basal cell skin cancer – literally on my nose. Please take a moment to read this, share, and take action. Being prepared and planning ahead are keys to achieving our training and nutrition goals; so don’t forget to apply these principles when spending time outdoors and protect yourself from the damaging effects of our beautiful sunshine.
The Stratospheric Ozone Layer is Thinner Than It Used to Be
The sun emits energy over a broad spectrum of wavelengths: visible light that you see, infrared radiation that you feel as heat, and ultraviolet (UV) radiation that you can’t see or feel. UV radiation has a shorter wavelength and higher energy than visible light. It affects human health both positively and negatively. Short exposure to UVB radiation generates vitamin D which is good for us, but too much can also lead to health concerns from sun damage.
The amount of UV rays the ozone layer absorbs and shields us from varies depending on the time of year and other natural events. The atmosphere’s ozone layer shields us from most UV radiation, but the ozone layer is thinner than it used to be due to ozone-depleting chemicals used in industry and consumer products.
Scientists classify UV radiation into three types, not all of which are absorbed by the ozone layer:
UVA – Not absorbed by the ozone layer.
UVB – Mostly absorbed by the ozone layer, but some does reach the Earth’s surface.
UVC – Completely absorbed by the ozone layer and atmosphere.
Ultraviolet Radiation exposure causes many health issues, particularly for people who spend unprotected time outdoors.
One in Five People Will Develop Some Form of Skin Cancer in their Lifetime
Unprotected exposure to UV radiation is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer. These three types all have serious risks:
-Basal Cell Carcinomas are the most common type of skin cancer tumors.
-Squamous Cell Carcinomas are tumors that may appear as nodules or as red, scaly patches.
-Malignant melanomas are the most serious form of skin cancer, and are now one of the most common cancers among adolescents and young adults ages 15-29.
Your Eyes Are Also at Risk from UV Damage
No amount of UV radiation is healthy for the eyes. Short-term exposure can cause sunburn of the eye, or Photo keratitis, and repeated exposure can increase your chances of developing eyelid skin cancer, cataracts, and macular degeneration.
The World Health Organization estimates that cataracts account for almost 15 million blind people worldwide. About 20%, or 3 million, of these are most likely caused by UV radiation.
UV Radiation Causes Premature Aging of the Skin
The tan vs. wrinkle dilemma is a great debate in today’s popular culture. We strive to look young and wrinkle-free and yet continue to equate a healthy tan with beauty.
The fact is, chronic UV exposure causes premature aging, which over time can make the skin become thick, wrinkled, and leathery. Since it occurs gradually, often manifesting itself many years after the majority of a person’s sun exposure, premature aging is often regarded as an unavoidable and normal part of growing older. With proper protection from UV radiation, however, most premature aging of the skin can be avoided.
Other UV-related skin disorders include Actinic Keratosis. Actinic Keratosis are skin growths that occur on body areas exposed to the sun. The face, hands, forearms, and the “V” of the neck are especially susceptible to this type of lesion. Although premalignant, Actinic Keratosis are a risk factor for squamous cell carcinoma.
Because nobody knows the answer to this question about sun exposure: “How much is too much?”
Your UV Exposure Depends on a Number of Factors
The level of UV radiation reaching the earth’s surface can vary. Each of the following factors can increase your risk of UV radiation overexposure and consequent health effects.
Time of Day
The sun is highest in the sky around noon. At this time, the sun’s rays have the least distance to travel through the atmosphere and UVB levels are at their highest. In the early morning and late afternoon, the sun’s rays pass through the atmosphere at an angle and their intensity is greatly reduced.
Time of Year
The sun’s angle varies with the seasons, causing the intensity of UV rays to change. UV intensity tends to be highest in the summer.
Weather Conditions and Altitude
Cloud cover reduces UV levels, but not completely. Depending on the thickness of the cloud cover, it is possible to burn on a cloudy day, even if it does not feel warm. UV intensity increases with altitude because there is less atmosphere to absorb the damaging rays. As a result, your chance of damaging your eyes and skin increases at higher altitudes.
Surfaces like snow, sand, pavement, and water reflect much of the UV radiation that reaches them. Because of this reflection, UV intensity can be deceptively high on these surfaces even in shaded areas.
You are Not Immune to the Sun’s Effects, Regardless of Age, Race, or Ethnicity.
Ethnicity and skin tone are factors in the incidence of skin cancers, but do not make you immune to the UV effects of sun exposure. While melanoma is uncommon in African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians, it is frequently fatal for these populations. The statistics for health-related issues from sun exposure to children are rapidly increasing. It’s the lifetime UV exposure that takes the greatest toll on your health and as you age the risks continue to mount.
Indoor Tanning is Out
UV Rays from the Sun and Tanning Beds Are Classified as a Human Carcinogen.
Not only can the ultraviolet radiation from indoor tanning beds cause premature aging, it also increases the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma the deadliest form of skin cancer.
Indoor tanning before the age of 35 has been associated with a significant increase in the risk of melanoma, and recently sunbeds (UV tanning beds) were moved up to the highest cancer risk category—group 1— ‘carcinogenic to humans’ by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer.
This fact according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization is true. The incidence of malignant skin cancers has significantly increased within tanning bed users.
More people develop skin cancer because of tanning beds than develop lung cancer because of smoking. Tanning beds are not safe and are starting to be banned in many countries.
The fact is we live with ozone every day. It can protect life on earth or harm it, but we have the power to influence ozone’s impact by the way we live. Continue to educate yourself and do your best to support changes that will collectively improve our environment. A little change can go a long way and I encourage you to lead by your own example using the suggestions below.
Actions You Can Take to Be Safe In The Sun
Wear Your Sunglasses
Wear sunglasses that protect at least 99% of UVA/UVB rays. This basic but important precaution is important for children as well. Prioritize a budget for good quality glasses.
Finding some shade under a tree, awning or umbrella will help protect you. UV rays can reach you by reflecting off of surrounding surfaces so you still need to cover up with clothing, a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
Cover up as much of your skin as you can with tightly woven or UV protective clothing. UV protection factor (UPF) measures the fabrics ability to block UV rays from passing through and reaching the skin.
Wear a hat with a wide brim hat and a scarf to protect the neck.
Use Sunscreen Properly
Sunscreen absorbs UV rays and prevents them from penetrating the skin. Sunscreens are rated by the strength of their SPF. The SPF tells you the product’s ability to screen or block out the sun’s UVB rays. SPF 15 sunscreen blocks 93% of UVB rays. Sunscreen with SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays.
Health Canada regulates the safety and quality of sunscreens in Canada. Sunscreen products are classified as drugs and must meet Canadian requirements.
Use sunscreen along with shade, clothing and hats, not instead of them. Remember that sunscreens are not meant to be used so that you can stay out in the sun longer. They are meant to increase your protection when you have to be outside. Sunscreen should be used on any exposed skin not covered by clothing.
- Use an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Make sure the sunscreen is labelled broad-spectrum (offers both UVA and UVB protection).
Be a leader on the field as a parent or coach and ensure the athletes and kids are protected.
Know the signs of Skin Cancer
You should check your skin regularly for changes. This will help you know what is normal for your own body and recognize when something may be wrong. Tell your doctor if you see any changes in your skin. Get any unusual skin lesions and moles checked by your Doctor and ask for biopsies early, especially for lesions on the face.
Look for and note any new growth on your skin. These include:
- pale, pearly nodules (lumps) that may grow larger and crust
- red or pink patches that are scaly and don’t heal
- new skin markings such as moles, blemishes, discoloration or bumps
- changes in the shape, colour, size or texture of a birthmark or mole
- a sore that doesn’t heal
- an abnormal area that bleeds, oozes, swells, itches or is red and bumpy
Actions You Can Take for Collectively Improving Our Environment:
-Reduce your use of plastics – use glass and stainless steel.
-Recycle every single thing you can.
-Invest time reading labels and try to shift towards using non-GMO, organic products that are packaged in non-BPA plastics.
Actions You Can Take for Yourself:
Practice good nutrition and exercise regularly.
Think about the quality of food you are putting into your body before you put it in your mouth.
Eat more vegetables and fruit, less red meat and avoid processed meat.
Limit BBQ, broiling, and frying.
Make Vitamin-D–not UV–a priority. Vitamin-D is essential for strong bones and a healthy immune system. The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests you get your recommended daily 600 IU of Vitamin-D per day from food sources or supplements.
Have a healthy body weight.
On a personal note: my battle with skin cancer continues. I will soon be having my fourth MOHS surgery in 12 years. This episode poses is a significant problem because of the cancers location. My skin cancers haven’t looked like anything but a patch of skin that bleeds from time to time like a zit. “You are a victim of the times really,” as stated to me from Dr. Jennifer Guillemaud, the head and neck surgeon who performed MOHS surgery on me in Calgary, Alberta. (See link to MOHS below.) She speaks to me on the fact that in my parents’ era sunscreens were only just getting popularized. It’s true, as I recall spending many days as a child in my dad’s boat fishing for salmon without sun protection of any kind.
May the phrase “enjoy the sunshine!” take on a new meaning for you today.
Thank you to the team at it’s time!, clients, friends, and family for your support through this.
Written by: Sheila Hamilton
Click here to listen to Sheila discuss this topic on the Jon McComb show. The Fitness Segment airs live every Thursday at 9:05 on CKNW 980 am.
*Many online sources were used in this post. Here are a few good ones:
About ozone: http://www.epa.gov/sunwise/doc/gooduphigh.pdf
Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov/nscep/
About eye protection: http://www.epa.gov/sunwise/doc/eyedamage.pdf
About MOHS Surgery for Skin Cancer: http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/mohs-surgery/mohs-surgery-saving-face
Source of facts: