Senior Living Q & A: So Cal sun and skin cancer

Q. I have lived in Southern California all my life and always been a sun worshiper. Should I be concerned about skin cancer?

We all should be concerned about skin cancer. Nearly one in five Americans is expected to develop some type of skin cancer in his or her lifetime. Ten thousand people die from the disease each year.

With the thinning of the ozone layer, tanning is now a year-round skin danger.

Many people assume that a tan protects them, when in fact a tan is actually a sign of skin damage. Ultra- violet radiation is also a major cause of cataracts.

Permanent damage is a delayed effect that takes years to show up, and accumulates over time. Sunburn has been definitively linked to melanoma, a deadly type of skin cancer.

Research suggests that the key to avoiding sunburn and sun damage is using sunscreen correctly. Sunscreens are chemical barriers that help prevent UV radiation from reaching the skin. Many sunscreens combine several different chemical ingredients in order to provide broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays

Most sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher do an excellent job of protection. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes prior to sun exposure in order for the ingredients to fully protect the skin. Reapply every one to two hours, after swimming and after heavy sweating — even if labeled “waterproof.”

Use liberally. Apply an ounce of sunscreen in order to thoroughly cover all of your exposed skin. During a long day outdoors, one person should use about one half of a full eight-ounce bottle of sunscreen.

Cover up. Wearing tightly woven fabrics and darkly colored clothes will block more UV rays than wearing thinner, lighter-colored fabrics. If you can see light through a material, UV rays can get through too.

You can help prevent skin cancer on sensitive areas such as ears, scalp, face and neck by wearing a broad-brimmed hat. Baseball caps offer some protection to your face but leave other areas vulnerable.

Always wear a pair of UV-blocking sunglasses with wraparound frames when you’re outside. Eyelids and the skin around your eyes are common sites for skin cancer and sun-related aging. Sunglasses also help reduce the risk of cataracts.

Although sunshine helps the body to produce vitamin D and also helps to combat symptoms of depression, experts agree that there is no such thing as a safe tan. The risks of sunburn and skin damage are very real, but protective sunscreen and clothing will allow you to enjoy your time in the sun. All it takes is a little preparation before you head out the door to ensure that your skin is protected for the day, and for the years to come.

NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, email it to or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.

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