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Don’t forget to follow summer sun health

By Allison Linville

While the summer may be winding down, that doesn’t mean it’s OK to loosen up on protecting yourself and your family from harmful sun exposure. We face a dilemma in northwest Montana – do we spend more time in the sun because we missed it during the long winter, or do we work hard to protect ourselves from the negative health risks from the sun’s ultraviolet rays?

The answer is to always protect yourself, even though some may think sun exposure is “good” or can offer the benefits of vitamin D. We can still appreciate the mental health benefits of being in nature even in the shade. Try following the tips below to reduce the effects of sun damage to your skin and the risk of skin cancer, especially if you are active in the outdoors in the summer:

  • Avoid direct sun exposure, especially during peak hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Try to be in the shade when outdoors.
  • Wear sunglasses, a hat, and light colored, UV blocking clothing when you are out in the sun.
  • Never leave the house – summer or winter – without applying sunscreen to any exposed skin.

Sunlight is the main source of UV rays, so it is essential to take precautions to protect yourself from exposure. However, the American Cancer Society recognizes that it would be unwise to stay inside if it would keep you from being active because physical activity is important for good health. Some people think about sun protection only when they spend a day at the lake, on the river, or out hiking. But sun exposure adds up day after day, and it happens every time you are in the sun – even just for a few minutes.

The American Cancer Society reminds us that UV radiation from the sun is a proven cause of most skin cancers. The ACS states, “Most skin cancers are a direct result of exposure to the UV rays in sunlight. Both basal cell and squamous cell cancers (the most common types of skin cancer) tend to be found on sun-exposed parts of the body, and their occurrence is typically related to lifetime sun exposure.”

As for getting vitamin D from the sun, the ACS recognizes that there are health benefits from vitamin D, and your skin makes vitamin D naturally when it is exposed to UV rays from the sun. However, it is much safer to get vitamin D from diet or supplements rather than from exposure to harmful UV rays, because dietary sources of vitamin D do not increase skin cancer risk, and are typically more reliable ways to get the amount that is best for you.

Information about reducing sun exposure and taking precautions to protect yourself and your family from UV rays is abundant but must be heeded. It is easy to make efforts to significantly reduce the risk of skin cancer, and it’s something that each of us is in control of for our own health. Taking the individual initiative to make changes that can reduce the risk of cancer is always worth it.

First published in the Whitefish Pilot, August 8, 2017