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Protecting the Skin You’re In: Sun Safety for Recreation and Occupational Health

Adapted from materials by the California Department of Health Services, Skin Cancer Prevention Program, available at: www.avoidskincancer.org.

Summer officially starts this month and with warmer weather and longer days, for many of us it also means more time spent outdoors in the sun. The sun provides warmth and light, can improve mental health, kills germs, and is essential for growth and development of most living things. Unfortunately, excessive sun exposure can cause blistering sunburns, premature aging (wrinkles and blotches), cataracts, a weakened immune system, and skin cancer.

With over one million new cases diagnosed each year, skin cancer is now considered epidemic. Health experts place UV rays in the same group as other cancer-causing agents like asbestos, arsenic, and tobacco smoke and this year there will be more new cases of skin cancer reported than the combined total of prostate, breast, lung, and colon cancer diagnosed.

Since sun exposure is understood to be the major cause of skin cancer, it is extremely important to protect children and youth from too much sunshine. This caution is reinforced by the fact that up to 50 percent of an individual’s lifetime contact with sunshine occurs before adulthood - at least for children who, as adults, acquire indoor occupations.

But for many people who continue to be exposed to sunshine as an adult through their occupation, harmful UV rays are usually the most overlooked part of their safety regime. Preventing falls, avoiding power equipment injuries, and lifting heavy loads are more obvious health concerns. Even though safety personnel review, plan, and implement numerous protection measures related to construction, maintenance procedures, and other outdoor tasks to safeguard all staff, sun safety is often neglected despite the sun’s dominant, daily presence in the sky.

The following tips provided by the California Department of Health Services Skin Cancer Prevention program are essential for individuals who spend the majority of their day outdoors for work, athletic training, or pleasure. While not all of these are possible all the time, employing these tips will reduce chances of skin cancer and other heat related illness, like sun stroke and heat exhaustion:

  • Reduce sun exposure from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when UV rays are strongest. (This is especially important from mid-spring through mid-fall.)
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat (at least 4-inch brim) that produces a shadow that covers the eyes, nose, face, ears, and neck.
  • Wear tightly-woven, loose-fitting clothing that covers as much of the body as possible, weather permitting.
  • When feasible, stay under shade (trees, physical structures).
  • Wear sunglasses that include a warranty stating that they provide 99 – 100 percent UVA and UVB (broad-spectrum) protection. Prescription glasses can have an UV-protective coating applied to the lens.
  • Liberally apply sunscreen to exposed skin 15 minutes before going outdoors. The sunscreen container should specify a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or above and should state that it provides broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection. Look for mexoryl, zinc oxide, or z-cote in the active ingredients list to help assure maximum sunscreen effectiveness. Depending on outdoor conditions, sunscreen should be reapplied at least every two hours.
  • Individuals with sensitive skin may want to test a new sunscreen on a small portion of skin to see if any negative reactions occur within 24 hours.
  • Use lip balm with a SPF of 15 or greater.
  • Avoid tanning salons, booths, and sunlamps.

This information and much more is available online in both English and Spanish at the California Department of Health Services Skin Cancer Prevention Program Web site, www.avoidskincancer.org. The mission of this program is to help businesses, organizations, and individuals understand why and how to guard themselves from unprotected exposure to sunlight, since ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight cause 90 percent of all skin cancer.


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