Don’t get burned: the importance of sunscreen

06.04.15 |

Preventing skin cancer

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a report that the rates of melanomas—a form of potentially deadly skin cancer—have doubled over the last 30 years.

In their report, the CDC says, “Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., and melanoma is the most deadly type of skin cancer.” They go on to say that “more than 90 percent of melanoma skin cancers are due to skin cell damage from ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure.”

90 percent! This means that an estimated 230,000 melanoma skin cancers could be prevented!

Vitamin D

Let’s rewind a bit. As you might recall from the Habits of Health, ultraviolet (UV) radiation is another source of inflammation. As anyone who has had a sunburn knows, excess UVA and UVB rays can damage and inflame our skin. In fact, this oxidative stress is not unlike what happens to an apple slice left exposed to the air. Luckily, those free radicals respond to antioxidants found in many lotions, which when used frequently in combination a sunscreen that blocks UVA and UVB, can help protect you and your children, who are particularly vulnerable.

This warning can seem counterintuitive though since some sunlight is good for you. Vitamin D, which can be produced by exposure to sunlight, is essential for optimal bone health. It also facilitates our absorption of calcium and directs minerals to our bones to increase their density. Twenty minutes of sun on your face and legs each day should provide an adequate amount of Vitamin D.

Wearing sunblock will limit your production of vitamin D somewhat, but you can supplement with 400 IU per day (talk to your physician first), and vitamin D can also be found in yogurt, dairy products, soy milk, and fatty fish such as salmon.

Even with the benefits of sunlight, you should not forego sun protection, especially in light of this new CDC report.

Protecting yourself

To protect yourself from melanoma, the CDC recommends that you:

  • Seek out shade. You are particularly vulnerable during midday hours.
  • Wear protective clothing.
  • Wear sunglasses that specifically block UVA and UVB rays.
  • Apply sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher with UVA and UVB protection.
  • Kick the tanning habit. The link between indoor tanning beds and health risks is fairly well known at this point.

Do not let the risks of sun exposure deter you from enjoying the outdoors. Being outside and being active is an incredibly important part of optimal health. Like riding a bike with a helmet, applying sunscreen before you spend time outdoors should become one of your Habits of Health. This simple habit could play a key role in your pursuit of longevity and give you even more years to enjoy the beautiful outdoors.