Pop quiz! What’s your body’s largest organ? Your lungs? Your heart? Your growling stomach? Nope. It’s actually your skin. Covering a total area of approximately 20 square feet [1. WebMD, “Skin Problems & Treatments Health Center,” http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/picture-of-the-skin] , your skin regulates your temperature, protects your innards from harmful external bacteria and excretes harmful internal toxins through sweat glands, and enables the sensation of touch. With such a vital role in keeping your body healthy and strong, your skin should be pampered and preserved at all costs.
Some alarming skin-related statistics:
- The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can harm your skin in as little as 15 minutes. [2. Center fdunkor Disease Control and Prevention, “Sun Safety,” http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/sun-safety.htm]
- According to a study printed in the May issue of the journal Science, “a quarter or more of cells in the skin of middle-aged people have suffered sun-induced DNA damage.”[3. Brody, Jane, “With Summer Sun Come Signs of Danger,” http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/06/29/with-summer-sun-come-signs-of-danger/?em_pos=small&emc=edit_hh_20150630&nl=health&nlid=16028460&ref=headline] What that means? A greater risk of skin cancer.
- Melanoma diagnoses have risen nearly 2 percent every year since 2000.[4. Rabin, Roni Caryn, “The New Rules for Suncreen,” http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/27/the-new-rules-for-sunscreen/?_r=0]
- Less than a third of adults in the U.S. use sunscreen regularly; a paltry 14.4% of teenage girls and 7.3% of teenage boys routinely use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. [5. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Skin Cancer,” http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/statistics/behavior.htm]
With facts like these, it’s time to pay attention. July is UV Safety Month and there’s no better moment like the present to embark on a journey of epidermal awareness. With temperatures soaring into the 100s and people flocking in droves to the beach or local watering hole to cool off, it’s more important than ever to urge your employees to be proactive about their skin and take the necessary precautions.
A few tips, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and WebMD:
1. Wear Enough Sunscreen. Know Your Ingredients
Slathering on a goopy pile of sunscreen is a no-brainer before any type of outdoor excursion. But not all sunscreens are created equal and not all ingredients are harmless. So how to know which bottles give you the most bang for your buck? Here are some simple guidelines:
First, check the SPF for UVB protection. The SPF number indicates how well a sunscreen protects against ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. For example, if you tend to burn in 5 minutes, an SPF 30 extends that protection 30 times over. Most dermatologists recommend lotions with SPF 30.[6. Griffin, R. Morgan, “Sun Safety: Sunscreen and Sun Protection,” http://www.webmd.com/beauty/sun/sun-safety-sunscreen-and-sun-protection] Anything over SPF 50 has proven to be largely ineffective.
Then make sure your sunscreen protects against UVA (ultraviolet A) rays. These days, bottles labeled “broad spectrum protection” will usually do the trick.
If you’re planning on taking a dunk, make sure your sunscreen is labeled “water-resistant.” Though no sunscreen can withstand a good soaking, water-resistant sunscreens are your best bet for long-lasting protection of wet skin.
Reapply! Thanks to water and sweat, it’s easy to lose track of whether your initial lathering is working. When in doubt, reapply every 2 hours[7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “What’s Your UV:IQ?” http://www.foh.hhs.gov/Calendar/july.html] just to be on the safe side.
Some studies have shown that ingredients in some sunscreens like oxybenzone, a chemical that may disrupt hormones, might be harmful to your health, while others like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are more useful and efficient.[8. Rabin, Roni Caryn, “The New Rules for Suncreen,” http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/27/the-new-rules-for-sunscreen/?_r=0] Be prepared and research what’s in the bottle before making a purchase. Check out the Environmental Working Group (EWG)’s database here to find out which ingredients are hazardous or ineffectual.
2. Sport Protective Clothing
Using sunscreen is key. But an even better way to prevent sunburn, age spots, and wrinkles is to cover your skin up with clothing. Long linen or cotton pants and brightly colored long-sleeved shirts offer the most protection while still allowing your skin to breathe[9. Skin Cancer Foundation, “What Is Sun-Safe Clothing?” http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/clothing/protection]. The Skin Cancer Foundation also recommends shopping for clothes that feature a UPF, or Ultraviolet Protection Factor, rating[10.Skin Cancer Foundation, “What You Need to Know About Clothing,” http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/clothing].
As with sunscreens, the higher the UPF rating, the greater your protection.
Hats and sunglasses are crucial when it comes to blocking powerful rays. A wide-brimmed (3-inch or greater) hat covers areas like the scalp where it is difficult to apply sunscreen, and those pesky, often-ignored spots like the tops of the ears and the back of the neck. For your eyes, look for sunglasses sporting the UV-resistant label. The best styles should block glare, 99 to 100% of UV rays, and have a wraparound shape to shield your eyes from various angles.
4. Know Your Place. Know the Hours
Sure, it’s possible to darken your tan slightly when the sun is tucked behind the clouds, but the worst thing you can do is put your body in harm’s way, no matter what the sky looks like. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, peak burning hours are between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.[11. Center for Disease Prevention and Control, “Questions & Answers on Skin Cancer Prevention,” http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/skincancer/pdf/QA.pdf]
During that time, it’s best to hang out in the shade. Use extra-caution when near reflective surfaces (we’re talking to you skiers) and if you live in higher altitudes where there is not as much atmosphere to absorb UV radiation, use a sunscreen with a higher SPF.
Whether you’re taking a dip in the swimming pool or cooling off on a pair of water skis, summer fun-time is finally here! Still, taking preemptive measures to ward off skin cancer should be everyone’s priority. Here are more UV Safety Month resources to share with your employees:
- Questions & Answers on Skin Cancer Prevention (CDC)
- What’s Your UV:IQ? Poster (HHS)
- What’s Your UV:IQ? Email Blast (HHS)
- What’s Your UV:IQ? Quiz Handout (HHS)
- The UV index (EPA)