Fighting the battle against sunburns takes minor planning.
Stay out in the sun too long, and you can expect a sunburn will cause you to lose sleep during the next few days. But doctors warn that serious sunburns could have long-term consequences that reach past the initial pain and peeling skin.
At the same time, sun-care advocates say that protecting yourself from sunburns and the increased risk for skin cancer can be as easy as slipping on a shirt, slapping on a hat and slopping on some sunscreen.
According to the American Cancer Society, people who suffered three or more blistering sunburns during adolescence increase their risk of skin cancer four to five times more than the general population. However, 80 percent of skin cancers could be prevented by following some simple tips to protect skin from the sun.
Even in Kansas, the threat of sunburn isn't limited to the summer months, and ultraviolet rays can harm on cloudy days. But as Lawrence residents don swimsuits and head out to the lake or the pool, or grab some shears to work in the yard or garden, they should also be packing some essential tools in the fight against skin cancer.
"Hats are definitely part of it," said Dr. Matthew Buxton, a dermatologist with Lawrence Dermatology, 346 Maine.
"Most people these days tend to wear baseball-type hats, and when it comes to hats, you want one with a brim to protect your ears," Buxton said.
Sitting under an umbrella at the beach isn't a catch-all protection against the sun, said Dr. Lee Bittenbender of the Dermatology Center of Lawrence. The sun's rays can reflect off the water and sand, resulting in a sunburn, he said, but an umbrella is better than no protection.
"You can also get sunburned on a cloudy day, so that can be a false sense of security," Bittenbender said.
Eighty percent of ultraviolet rays can penetrate clouds, and sometimes the worst sunburns occur on cloudy days when people are less vigilant, Buxton said.
Doctors also suggest avoiding prolonged times of direct sunlight when the sun's rays are strongest, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. As a rule of thumb, Bittenbender said to limit outdoor activities if your shadow is shorter than your height.
The American Cancer Society recommends using a sunscreen with a skin protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, but Buxton recommends using a sunscreen with at least a 30 SPF.
"If you know you're going to be out all day, my suggestion is use SPF 30. Also, re-apply it, even if you're staying completely dry," he said.
Some sunscreen products may tout their ability to withstand water, but Bittenbender said they are tested in controlled situations, allowing test subjects to drip dry. In real life, however, people will use a towel, brushing off some of the sunscreen. Sweat also can wash away some sunscreens.
"I think it's important for people to understand they need to use enough sunscreen. People tend to scrimp on the amount they use," Bittenbender said. " " There are a whole variety of sunscreens available, in gels, lotions, creams and sticks. If people look around a little bit, they'll find something that's cosmetically acceptable to them."
People taking antibiotics, anti-seizure medications and diuretics should check labels on the medications, because they increase sensitivity to light. Birth control pills and aspirin also can affect sensitivity to light.
Using tanning beds instead of direct sunlight doesn't eliminate the risk of cancers.
"We're seeing more and more patients, partly because of the tanning beds," Buxton said. "People are under the misconception that tanning beds are safe."
Dangers of sun
April Goode, a representative of the American Cancer Society in Oklahoma City, said parents should be particularly aware of how long their children spend in the sun. Goode said people generally receive 80 percent of their total exposure to ultraviolet rays by age 18.
"That's why it's so important that parents put sunscreen on their kids," Goode said. "Whether it's at recess or playing outside, or during the summer when they tend to spend the whole day outside, children are exposed to the sun a lot."
People who had an outdoor job for three or more summers during their adolescence have a two- to three-fold greater risk of developing melanoma, which is a less serious but more common form of skin cancer than basal cell carcinoma. Both are almost always curable in early stages. The risk of melanoma is greater if one or more of a person's close relatives have been diagnosed with melanoma, according to the American Cancer Society.
"Prevention is the key to eliminating or decreasing melanoma," Buxton said.
-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.