Experts stress the importance of fighting the sun

The first official day of summer is just a few days away – June 21. It means the start of the season meant to be enjoyed by outdoors enthusiasts of all ages. However, some precaution is in order.

Anyone spending time outdoors takes the risk of developing melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. More than 8,000 Americans die each year from melanoma.

“Melanoma can appear anywhere there is sun exposure – forearms and hands, ears, noses,” said Ann Welch, family nurse practitioner specializing in dermatology at Minot’s Trinity Health Center, Medical Arts. “It’s nothing to mess around with. It can spread within your body and go to other body organs.”

Although anyone spending time outdoors will be exposed to harmful rays of the sun, there are some groups more at risk than others – fishermen, boaters, farmers and construction workers among them. All spend countless hours outdoors where the sun’s ultraviolet rays increase the risk of developing melanoma.

“Men are at risk on ears and hands for any skin cancer. Women probably more on their chest or back and ankle areas,” said Welch. “Blistering increases your risk of having skin cancer.”

Sunscreens have long been relied upon to provide protection from harmful radiation from the sun. However, they need to be adequate for the job and applied frequently. Welch and Dr. Byron Grubb recommend two favorite sunscreens – BullFrog Superblock and Neutrogena Helioplex, both of which have proven to be effective even against ultraviolet rays.

“Make sure they are not stored in the sun or in the cold. That will degrade it,” said Welch. “Put it on 20 minutes before you go outside and reapply every two hours, even if you are just working in the garden.”

Sunscreens carry an SPF rating which stands for sun protection factor. Some sunscreens are rated SPF 30, others as high as 100. Welch said she recommends a minimum of SPF 45.

An increasingly popular option for boaters and fishermen seeking to protect themselves from the sun’s ultraviolet rays and reduce their risk of melanoma is specialized clothing. Large brimmed fishing hats with built-in capes which cover the ears and neck are good choices.

“Not a baseball cap. You need a hat with a wide brim,” advises Welch. “I like buffs, too.”

Buffs are made of thin material and can be worn in a variety of ways to cover the neck, ears and face. Buffs are easy to wear and easy to breath through when pulled up to protect the nose and face. Like other protective clothing, buffs carry a SPF number. High-tech shirts and pants which have a SPF of 50 or greater also offer a great alternative to sunscreens.

“As long as it is a long-sleeved shirt,” says Welch. “It varies from person to person, but you get the sun’s reflection back from the water too. Also, with some protective clothing, the level of protection depends on how many washings it has had.”

Hands can be protected by gloves specially designed for boaters and fishermen. For example, Glacier Glove’s Abaco Sun Gloves cover wrists and fingers with ultra-violet protection and a SPF of 50-plus. Much of today’s specialized clothing is lightweight, cool, easy to wear and carry a high SPF rating which can go a long ways toward reducing the risk of life-threatening melanoma.

“There are some warning signs of melanoma,” added Welch. “That includes dark spots that appear out of nowhere, sores or lesions that don’t heal, maybe a change in a mole. You can be safe in the sun, you just have to have the right protection.”