Protect yourself from the sun to avoid skin cancer, premature aging; blindness
By Robert Hopwood
The sun, which draws so many to the desert to relax by the pool and work on their tans, also is a big health hazard. The desert is known for very sunny days and blue skies, which keeps companies like Airbnb happy. But at this time of year, when the mercury heads for the stratosphere, it's essential to protect our bodies from the sun's harmful rays.
The ultraviolet radiation coming from our favorite star can seriously harm us. The sun gives off three types of UV radiation, UVA, UVB and UVC. It's UVA radiation that causes the most harm. Earth's ozone layer completely absorbs UVC radiation, it absorbs most of the UVB radiation, but it doesn't absorb UVA radiation at all.
"We need to worry about it," says Dr. David Morris, chief medical officer of DAP Health.
We evolved on this planet, bathed in UV radiation. We need it. UVA radiation penetrates our skin and creates vitamin D, which helps our bodies absorb calcium and phosphorus. It also helps our bones develop, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Too much sunshine can cause more than a nasty sunburn. According to the CDC, UV exposure can cause skin cancer, premature aging, and eye diseases that can lead to blindness.
The CDC says skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, and the most common types of skin cancer are basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer. But melanoma is the worst, says Morris. It kills thousands every year. Another hazard is actinic keratosis, which is a rough, scaly skin patch. It's slow to develop but can become cancerous.
"The big ones are actinic keratosis and melanoma," says Dr. Morris. "Those are the ones that we worry about."
How much sun is safe? "What we say is 30 minutes a day will give you all the vitamin D you need," says Morris.
July is UV Safety Awareness Month. And summer is the best time to think about UV radiation and how to protect ourselves. Below are ways to avoid getting too much sun and cut your risk of developing skin cancer.
If you will be in the sun — even when the UV index is low — remember the sunscreen. Apply, reapply and apply again. Use sunscreen on every part of the body exposed to the sun, which includes your ears. Morris says in the desert, you should look for a sunscreen that's at least 30 SPF.
It's hot here but resist the urge to remove layers to stay cool. Instead, put them on. Watch people who work outside in the intense sunlight. They wear pants, long sleeve shirts and wide brim hats. Morris says they are doing it right.
Wear sunglasses that offer 100 percent UV protection to avoid damaging your eyes. This is important because UV radiation can burn the cornea; increase your odds of getting cataracts; cause pterygium, in which a flesh membrane covers the eye; and lead to macular degeneration, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Stay in the shade
When you go outside, stay in the shade. Remember clouds aren't shade. "UV rays go through the clouds," says Morris. "People say, 'Oh, it's a cloudy day, and I don't have to worry.' Well, that's not true." You can get a nasty sunburn even on cloudy days.
Avoid going outside when the UV index is high
UV radiation levels fluctuate during the day. Go outside when the UV index is low, and avoid the sun when radiation is highest, usually after 11 a.m. You can download apps for your phone — Android or iPhone — that will tell you the UV index for your location. You also can find the UV index online.
Do a body check
Skin cancer can form anywhere on, or even in, your body. Check your skin regularly. If you see something that isn't right, see your clinician. Ask your partner to look at the areas of your skin that you cannot see, like your back and scalp. Morris advises people to have their clinician check them once a year.
Don't use indoor tanning beds
Indoor tanning beds can damage your skin as much as the sun can. They are just as dangerous. Other sources of UV radiation are mercury vapor lights, often found in stadiums and school gyms; some types of halogen, fluorescent and incandescent lights; sunlamps; and some types of lasers, according to the CDC.