Local News

Friday, May 14 2010 05:34 PM

Summer's here: slap on the sunscreen

BY JASON KOTOWSKI, Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

It's that time of year when the perfect weekend could probably be best described as lounging on the beach or spending the day at the pool, soaking up rays and cooling down with some leisurely strokes in the water.

But health officials say people spending significant time outside need to take steps to protect themselves from the sun to help prevent skin cancer in the future.

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Here are some tips to help minimize risk of skin cancer:

* Cover up -- when out in the sun, wear lightweight, comfortable fabrics to protect as much skin as possible.

* Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.

* Wear a hat -- a hat with at least a 2- to- 3-inch brim all around will protect the neck, ears, eyes, forehead, nose and scalp.

* Wear sunglasses that block UV rays.

* Limit direct sun exposure during midday -- UV rays are usually most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

* Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps -- tanning lamps emit rays that can cause long-term skin damage and contribute to cancer.

Source: American Cancer Society

Tina Woodall, a physician's assistant at the Comprehensive Skin Cancer, Dermatology and Laser Center, said Bakersfield is among the tops in the nation for the amount of sunshine it receives annually. At least 10 patients with skin cancer are seen at the center each day, she said.

"People need to remember that the sun's rays are stronger than they've ever been," Woodall said.

Kern County Public Health Officer Dr. Claudia Jonah said people should regularly check themselves for skin changes. To check the back and shoulders properly, get a family member or friend to help.

Look for changes to existing moles, freckles and birthmarks, said Denise Smith, assistant director of disease control for the Kern County Department of Public Health. Those changes could be the first signs of skin cancer and should be reported to a doctor.

Direct sunlight should be avoided between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun's rays are most potent, Smith said. Caution must be taken even on cloudy days because sunlight can still come through and damage the skin.

Many people don't realize some medications can make the skin more sensitive to sunlight, Smith said. Whenever starting a new prescription, ask your pharmacist if it will make you increase sensitivity.

There are no standard time limits for safe exposure because everyone's skin is different and some people are far more sensitive to sunlight than others. The important thing is to take preventative measures and keep your skin healthy.

"People live in California because they like the sun, but they need to protect themselves," Woodall said.

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