Along with fireworks and hot dogs, there is another time-honored Fourth of July tradition: the sunburn.
For some people, it's an accepted sign of summer and for others a painful reminder they needed more sunscreen or to
put a shirt on sooner. Skin is the body's largest organ (as every fifth-grader knows). It serves important roles
including protecting internal organs from injury, providing a barrier from germs, preventing loss of too much fluids
and regulating body temperature.
Many people think a tan makes you look healthy or attractive. Most Americans, including up to 80 percent of people
younger than 25, think they look better with a tan. According to the Mayo Clinic, "tanning is your skin's injury
response to excessive ultraviolet (UV) radiation." Continued exposure to sun and UV radiation causes wrinkles, brown
spots, blotchiness and leathery older looking skin. How healthy or attractive is that?
Along with premature aging, ultra-violet radiation from the sun is a major risk factor for skin cancer. The National
Council on Skin Cancer Prevention calls skin cancer a growing epidemic with more than 1 million new cases diagnosed
each year in the U.S. - more than new cases of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined. One in five
Americans will develop skin cancer in his or her lifetime. One American dies from skin cancer every hour. Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is now one of the most common cancers among adolescents and young adults.
There are various risk factors for getting skin cancer, including higher elevation (UV radiation increases 4 to 5
percent per 1,000 feet). However, the most preventable risk factor is unprotected exposure to UV radiation. To help
remember how to be sun safe, the American Cancer Society has a fun catch phrase: Slip! Slop! Slap! ... and Wrap!:
slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat, wrap on sunglasses to protect the eyes and sensitive skin around
them. In addition to these tips, seek shade especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. While parents should use these
methods for protecting children from too much sun, it's also important to teach kids to protect themselves as they
get older. Alas, teens often have their own minds - visit www.kidshealth.com/teen and
www.skincancer.org/Go-With-Your-Own-Glow/ for teen-friendly information about tanning, consequences of sun exposure
Early detection also is key. Finding skin cancer early is the best way to ensure it can be treated effectively. It is
important to check your own skin once a month for any changes, or as the American Academy of Dermatologists suggests:
"check your birthday suit on your birthday."
Visit its website for self-exam resources at: www.aad.org/public. Also recommended is seeing a physician every year
for a skin exam.
Start your own new tradition this summer - Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap!
Visit our website www.sjbhd.org/sun-safety for links to websites below along with other helpful resources.
Jane Looney is the communications director for the San Juan Basin Health Department.