by Pam Zubeck
With Memorial Day weekend upon us, all those who have grown pale as copy paper over the winter will undoubtedly be donning the halter tops and short-shorts and leaving the hat in the closet.
Beware: The sun's power is about to make your life miserable, unless you heed advice from the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention, which has designated Friday as “Don’t Fry Day” in an effort to remind people to protect their skin while spending time outdoors.
The state Department of Public Health and Environment joins the message, reminding Coloradans that sun protection is even more important at high-altitude. According to the Colorado Central Cancer Registry, Colorado melanoma incidence rates were 16 percent higher than the U.S. rate for men and 21 percent higher than the U.S. rate for women in 2006.
Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the primary risk factor for skin cancer, which is on the rise across Colorado and the country, the state said in a press release. Each year, there are more new cases of skin cancer in the United States than new cases of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined. Approximately 68,700 cases of malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, were diagnosed in the United States in 2009.
One in seven Colorado melanomas is diagnosed in someone under the age of 30, highlighting the need to protect children from overexposure to the sun and teach them sun safety behaviors. According to the American Cancer Society, severe sunburns in childhood may greatly increase the risk of melanoma later in life.
Here are some tips to keeping your skin safe:
Know Your Risk — Everyone's risk for skin cancer is different and understanding the unique cancer risks for you and your family is important for implementing appropriate prevention strategies.
Check the UV Index — The UV Index site provides a forecast of UV overexposure risk and indicates the degree of caution you should take when outdoors.
Schedule Time Wisely — Avoid long outdoor activities between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
Wear Appropriate Clothing — Clothing can block the sun’s harmful rays and should be one of the first lines of defense against sun exposure.
Wear a Hat — A hat with a brim of 3 inches or more offers the best method of minimizing ultraviolet radiation to the face, head, ears and neck.
Wear Sunglasses — Sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection are common, inexpensive and can prevent short- and long-term damage to the eyes.
Apply Sunscreen — Generously apply sunscreen and lip balm with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or greater every two hours, after swimming and even on cloudy days. Clouds block only 20 to 40 percent of UV rays.
In Colorado, sun safety is a year-round activity. The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention recommends examining your skin regularly for changes in moles or skin growth, avoiding tanning beds and making UV protection a lifelong practice.