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Common Sense on: Sun Safety

July 24, 2009
Senator Tom Harkin

These beautiful summer days beckon us to walk, swim and play outside. And while all Iowans should get outside and enjoy the warm weather, it is important to remember that sunshine is a delight, but it can also be a danger. This year, one million Americans will develop skin cancer, making it the most common form of cancer in our country. One in five of us will develop skin cancer in our lifetime.

Anyone can get skin cancer, but it is most common among fair skinned people and those who have spent too much time in the sun. The main culprit is overexposure to ultraviolet rays. In addition to the short-term danger of sunburn, long-term exposure to UV radiation can cause skin cancer, eye damage, immune system suppression and premature aging.

In particular, we need to encourage the young people in our lives to take precautions. Most Americans receive 50 to 80 percent of their lifetime sun exposure before they reach the age of 18. Just one or two blistering sunburns in childhood may double the risk of developing melanoma.

We all need some sun exposure. Sunlight is our primary source of Vitamin D, which helps us to absorb calcium for stronger and healthier bones. It takes very little exposure, however, for people to get sufficient amounts of Vitamin D.

Below are six basic tips for protecting yourself and your family year round:

When outdoors, use sunscreens rated SPF 15 or higher. Apply the lotion liberally, uniformly and frequently. Make sure the sunscreen you are using is broad-spectrum sunscreen (to filter UVB and UVA rays).

Stay out of the midday sun (from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) whenever you can. You also should protect yourself from UV radiation reflected by sand, water, snow and ice. UV radiation can go through light clothing, windshields, windows and clouds.

Wear long sleeves and long pants of tightly woven fabrics, a hat with a wide brim and sunglasses that absorb UV.

Stay away from sunlamps and tanning booths.

Do not sunbathe period.

Teach your children good sun-protection habits at an early age.

Remember, protecting yourself and your family from the sun is the best way to ward off skin cancer. Have a happy, healthy summer and stay sun-safe.



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