Sun exposure a year-round risk

Kathleen Maynard, 22, of Woodstock, applies sunscreen while keeping watch as a lifeguard at the W.O. Riley Park in Woodstock recently. Rich Cooley/Daily

Summertime is when many Americans break out their sunglasses and dust off the ol’ sunscreen. But according to area professionals, sun-related skin and eye care should be a year-round endeavor.

Risk of cancer

Sunny days are dangerous for skin, but Dr. Kenneth Mason of Woodstock Surgical Clinic said cloudy days can be worse because people don’t realize the threat and might not think to shield themselves from the sun’s rays.

A general surgeon who sees a lot of cancer patients, Mason said wearing proper sunscreen, eye cover and clothing is the best way of preventing against melanoma, sunburn and premature aging of the skin.

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, the Skin Cancer Foundation explains at the website http://www.skincancer.org. It presents as cancerous growths of varying colors of pink, red, purple, blue, white or skin-colored, but usually black or brown.

Caused mainly by intense, occasional UV exposure frequently leading to sunburn, melanoma kills close to 10,000 people in the United States annually.

The risk begins in childhood, Mason said, particularly among children who experience bad sunburns.

“For children especially, it’s important to keep them covered with sunscreen,” Mason said.

“It’s sun exposure as a child that’s the real risk of melanoma,” he said. The risk of skin cancer “is lifelong.”

Applying sunscreen

Sunscreen should be reapplied throughout the day, more often if the wearer is swimming or sweating a lot from heat or exercise.

It should also be applied under light-colored clothing, which isn’t always protective on its own. The sun’s rays can reach through clothing, Mason said. Dark clothing is safer, since it absorbs sunlight and prevents the rays from reaching the skin.

The Sun Protection Factor of sunscreen matters because it measures how well the sunscreen protects against ultraviolet radiation — specifically UVB rays, which cause sunburn. But SPF doesn’t measure UVA rays, another kind of ultraviolet rays that contribute to skin cancer, so the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a sunscreen that protects against both.

Both types will age skin prematurely, the site says, and because UVA rays exacerbate the carcinogenic effects of UVB rays, both are considered a cause of skin cancer.

To block UVB rays, a sunscreen’s SPF should be at least 15, and Mason said as high as SPF 60 is effective. Higher than that doesn’t make much difference, he said.

In theory, SPF 15 allows the user an hour of sun exposure and SPF 60 four-times as much protection. In reality, Mason said SPF 60 is closer to double the protection of SPF 15 — or two hours of sunlight.

Other sun protection

Since sunscreen is important protection against sunburn and cancer, it should not be quarantined to the summer. Year-round sunscreen helps protect skin at higher elevations, regions near the equator and places where the sun reflects off water and snow.

Reflection of sun can increase the sun’s power by 80 percent, Mason said.

Dr. Nancy Eisele, an opthalmologist with Eye Associates of Winchester, recommends sunglasses with complete protection from ultraviolet rays.

“It’s similar to the skin in that you want to block most of the UVA and UVA rays that can do damage,” she said.

It’s important for sunglasses to cover the area around the eye, said Eisele, who has been seeing more and more patients with cancer at younger ages.

“Lower lids are real prime areas,” she said.

Sunglasses don’t need to be expensive to be effective, but she said if they don’t have UV protection, they’re actually worse for your eyes than not wearing any sunglasses at all.

Sunglasses trick the eyes into dilating, she said, allowing in more sunlight.

Those who spend time on the water or in areas of snow have higher incidences of cataracts, Mason said, because they might not think to wear sunglasses with total UV protection.

Sunscreen, hats and other proper clothing would also be appropriate for those who spend time in the sun or where the sun’s rays are stronger.

The sun’s rays are deadlier at higher elevations and in tropical climates, because of their more direct angle to Earth’s atmosphere.

Make it important

Despite knowledge of the risks of skin cancer, Mason said some people don’t take it seriously and do themselves unnecessary harm.

Sunscreen might be a no-brainer for fair-skinned individuals, but Mason said those with dark skin might overestimate their safety. They may not burn, but he said skin cancer is still a concern.

“Tanning is your body’s [way of] creating melanin to protect your skin,” Mason said. “[But] it doesn’t protect you.”

“It’s an attempt, but you can’t say, “Oh, I’m tan, I don’t need to wear sunscreen,'” he said.

Mason was also quick to dispel the safety of using tanning oils instead of sunscreen or using tanning beds.

“Tanning beds should be made illegal,” he said. “All you do is age your skin and increase your risk of skin cancer dramatically.”

“The tan doesn’t protect them.”


Increase hydration in hot weather

Staying hydrated in the summer heat is “critically important,” said Dr. Kenneth Mason, a general surgeon with Woodstock Surgical Clinic.

“I don’t know how you can stress the fact that you need to hydrate,” he said.

The body loses about a quart of water an hour during high temperatures or vigorous exercise such as sprints or other outdoor sports, so Mason recommended rehydrating with a quart an hour.

“And it’s risky if you don’t,” he said.

Chills and shaking might sound like a strange response to overheating, but that’s exactly the point.

They’re warning signs, he said. “You’re about to be in big trouble.”

Water is best for hydrating the body, particularly for children, said Rebecca Davis, nutrition and consumer sciences agent at the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Winchester office.

Though sports drinks are a popular way of trying to replenish electrolytes lost during vigorous exercise, Davis said they’re rarely necessary.

“In most cases it’s just adding calories,” she said.

The exception would be extensive exercise, she said — “If you’re a marathon runner or, you know, you’re out for hours and hours doing intense exercise.”

“For most people, that’s not the case,” she said.

Mason agreed: “Your body is very good at conserving minerals.”

Exercise in the morning or evening when it’s cooler, Davis said.

“Especially if you’re not in shape,” she said, “[heat] it puts your body under a tremendous amount of stress.”

“For most people, they shouldn’t be exercising during the hottest part of the day.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com