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Climate Change and Skin Cancer: It’s Impact on Lifestyle

Updated on May 28, 2015

As a redhead and an avid gardener, I learned the hard way how important it is to apply a high SPF sunscreen and cover my skin from the sun. I’ve long enjoyed feeling the sun on my skin and the sensation of ‘recharging my batteries’ from the energy of the sun. Now when I go outdoors, after so many years soaking up the sun, I feel like a little porcelain princess all covered up and delicate.

According an article by the WHO (World Health Organization) ozone depletion is technically not part of “global climate change”. However, interactions between ozone depletion and greenhouse gas-induced warming have been documented.

Epidemiological studies have cited solar radiation as one cause of skin cancer (melanoma and other types) in fair-skinned humans. Most vulnerable to skin cancer are white Caucasians, especially those of Celtic descent. Scientists expect the effect of ozone depletion and its continuation over the next 1-2 decades to lead to an increase in skin cancer.

Behavior is a factor in higher UV exposure, through sun-bathing and skin-tanning and the many outdoor activities being engaged in. The increase in skin cancers in western populations in recent years is a reflection of the combination of background, changes in geographical areas as people travel, relocate to new countries, and modern behaviors.

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 135,000 new cases of melanoma in the US are diagnosed in a year. It’s estimated that in 2015, 73,870 of these will be invasive melanomas, affecting about 42,670 males and 31,200 women. 65% of melanoma cases are currently associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. For example, golfers have a high risk for melanoma due to long term exposure. Men over age 40 have the highest annual exposure to UV radiation. The majority of people diagnosed with melanoma are white men over age 50. Melanoma is one of only three cancers with an increasing mortality rate for men. Though melanoma is not the most common type of skin cancer, it is the most deadly.

The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes. Encouraging total sun avoidance is a simplistic response to UVR exposure. The following guidelines are suggested by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and the Skin Cancer Foundation to protect yourself from sun damage, skin cancer and even cataracts.

Shade: seek shade under an umbrella, tree, or other type of shelter, especially between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm.

Clothing: wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and skirts when possible to provide protection from UV rays. A wet T-shirt doesn’t offer as good UV protection as a dry one, and darker colors offer more protection than lighter ones. A typical T-shirt at best has an SPF rating lower than 15, so if you’re wearing a t-shirt, other types of protection need to be used as well.

Hat: wear a hat with a brim all the way around to protect your face, ears, and the back of your neck. Canvas works better than straw hats with holes that let sunlight through. If you wear a baseball cap, you should also protect your ears and the back of your neck by wearing something to cover those areas and use sunscreen with at least SPF 15.

Sunglasses: sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the delicate skin around your eyes from sun exposure.

Sunscreen: apply a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15 before you go outside, even on slightly cloudy or cool days. Get help for hard-to-reach places like your back. Sunscreen works best when combined with other options to prevent UV damage.

Most sun protection products contain chemicals that interact with the skin to protect it from UV rays by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering sunlight. Sunscreens are assigned a sun protection factor (SPF) number that rates their effectiveness in blocking UV rays. You should use a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15. Higher numbers indicate a higher level of protection.

Sunscreen does wear off so reapply if you’re out in the sun for more than two hours, after swimming, sweating, or using a towel.

Some makeup and lip balms contain sunscreens but read the label. If they don’t have at least SPF 15 you need to add sunscreen with a higher SPF.

The impact on how we enjoy our lives in the outdoors has changed dramatically. We can no longer enjoy the freedom to walk out the door without first putting on that layer of protection using combinations of sunscreen and clothing between us and the sun.


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