Sun Safety - Something to Consider
Carol Beard, RN, BS.N, Ann C. Slocum, Ph.D., and Joanne Schultink, M.S.
Human Environment and Design Department, Michigan State University

"One in five people will be diagnosed with skin cancer sometime in his/her lifetime.  Nearly 1 million new skin cancers are diagnosed each year in the United States, and more than 40,000 of these cases are melanoma.  Annually, nearly 10,000 people die of skin cancer, including over 7,000 from melanoma" (Vetter. 1999).  "The primary cause of skin cancer is overexposure to the sun's rays, or sunburn.  These cancers can be prevented by reducing exposure to ultraviolet radiation" (Koeck, 1999).

We cannot escape the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun, nor should you try to.  Sunlight, in reasonable doses, enables natural immunity, promotes skin growth and healing, stimulates hormone production, and contributes to an overall sense of well being.  Getting some sunlight for 15 or 20 minutes a day enables the body to manufacture vitamin D naturally, and is responsible for the synthesis of the pigment melanin, the skin's natural sunscreen (Maier, 1999).  "UVB rays, dubbed the 'burning rays' target the upper layers of skin, and actually break down DNA. UVA rays, referred to as the 'silent killers,' penetrate farther and destroy the collagen matrix.  With all of these threatening light rays constantly battering your skin, it's easy to see how wrinkles and other photo-aging effects can occur.  The disturbance of genetic material and cell formation are the factors that lead to the development of skin cancer" (Maier, 1999).  "While tanning is the skin's protective response against damage to UV light, it does not prevent skin cancer, a disease in which malignant cells develop in the skin's outer layers" (Koeck, 1999).

Prevention is always easier than a cure, so that means that we need to reduce exposure to UV radiation, especially those resulting in sunburns, because just one sunburn can lead to melanoma eventually (Henderson, 1996).  In general, children are in the sun three times longer than adults, with eighty percent of damage occurring to the skin before the age of eighteen (Koeck, 1999).  Sun damage is cumulative, and severe sunburns in early years are a risk factor, but we can at any point in time begin to diminish our cumulative exposure (Lamberg, 1998).  Specific areas of sun protection that we can avail ourselves of are protective clothing, sunscreens/sun blocks, sunglasses, and avoidance of artificial UV radiation.


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