Get Healthy Carson City: The future’s so bright shades and sunscreen are essential | NevadaAppeal.com

Get Healthy Carson City: The future’s so bright shades and sunscreen are essential

Cari Herington

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This column appears in the Nevada Appeal's Tuesday health pages. It addresses topics related to the health of our community.

It's no secret that skin cancer has become the most common cancer in the United States. It's diagnosed more often than breast, lung, prostate, and colon cancers combined. The good news is that skin cancer is also one of the most preventable cancers.

The No. 1 cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. There are two types of ultraviolet rays that reach the earth from the sun — ultraviolet A (UVA) rays and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVA rays are absorbed in the deeper layers of your skin causing aging and wrinkling. UVB rays cause the burning on the outer layer of your skin. Both UVA and UVB rays can cause skin cancer as well as damage to your eyes.

There is no such thing as a safe tan. A tan is your skin's response to injury from UV rays. Sunburns at any age are dangerous; however, one or more blistering sunburns in childhood or as a teenager can more than double your risk of skin cancer later in life. Other risk factors include fair skin, moles or freckles, and a family history of skin cancer. However, even those without these risk factors can get skin cancer.

But, darn it, spring has arrived in Northern Nevada and we can almost touch the sunny days of summer just around the corner. It's time to plant that garden, ride bikes, and hit the hiking trails. Spending those beautiful days outside, be it during the spring, summer, fall, or winter, is part of what we love about living here. Completely avoiding the sun is impossible and certainly not the point of this article.

We can protect ourselves and our families from the damaging rays of the sun. And while I was a sun worshiper in my earlier years, I am now a diligent daily user of sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses. I cannot take back all the years of sun damage to my skin, but I can prevent more damage. I am also teaching my children to make putting on sunscreen a daily habit, just like brushing their teeth and washing their hands.

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Understanding sunscreen

SPF stands for "sun protection factor." SPF is a measure of how the sunscreen will protect you from UVB rays. The higher the SPF number, the greater the protection against UVB rays. No sunscreen can protect you 100 percent, but a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 blocks nearly 97 percent of the sun's rays when applied thoroughly.

A sunscreen that is labeled "broad-spectrum" or "multi-spectrum" means the sunscreen protects against not only UVB rays, but also UVA rays. Some sunscreens can be water-resistant to withstand water and sweat, but they need to be reapplied often. No sunscreen is waterproof.

The rule of thumb is to put on sunscreen 20 minutes before going outside, then again at least every two hours. Reapply sunscreen immediately after swimming, toweling off, or sweating. The more sunscreen, the better — slop and slather it on! Many people do not apply enough.

Be Sun Smart with the 5 S's

Sunscreen is not the only way to protect your skin from the sun's rays. The best way to prevent skin cancer is to follow the 5 S's:

SLIP on sun protective clothing such as a long-sleeved shirt;

SLOP on broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater

SLAP on a wide-brimmed hat;

SEEK shade, and do not forget to

SLIDE on those sunglasses!

While it's best to prevent skin cancer in the first place, when caught early skin cancer is highly treatable. The two most common types of skin cancer, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, are highly curable. Melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is much more dangerous. If you notice a suspicious spot on your body, contact your health care provider.

For information about skin cancer prevention and early detection, visit us at SunSmartNevada.org.

Carson City Health and Human Services encourages you to be sun safe and have fun in the outdoors. For information about services and programs available to you through Carson City Health and Human Services, visit gethealthycarsoncity.org, follow it on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/cchhs, or call 775-887-2190. You can also find it at 900 E. Long St.

Cari Herington is the executive director of the Nevada Cancer Coalition.