Friday, May 14, 2010

No Such Thing As A Healthy Tan

People of all ages and ethnicities should take precautions when enjoying fun in the sun,  especially swimming.

(SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.) Climbing High, an online newsletter from Guides Network, puts it rather succinctly: “…there is no such thing as a healthy tan.”

Most of us know skin cancer is growing at an alarming rate. “There is an epidemic of non-melanoma skin cancer in the United States,” reported Dr. Howard Rogers of Advanced Dermatology in Norwich, Connecticut.

Years ago we “knew” that a tan was a sign of “good health.” After all, sun exposure is our primary source of vitamin D which, says, “helps us absorb calcium for stronger and healthier bones.”

But the organization also alerts us to the fact that, “Kids rack up between 50 percent and 80 percent of their lifetime sun exposure before age 18.”

The Inland Empire’s LaSalle Medical Associates, with four Inland Empire clinics, sees more than its share of sun damage victims.

“It’s especially a concern in the High Desert,” points out LaSalle’s Audit and Education Coordinator Barbara Graber. “Kids play outside more hours and more days, which means more sun exposure, a potential for skin damage, heat exhaustion, sunstroke and heat illness. Young people involved in sports,” she continues, “are at real risk because they tend to lose track of outdoor time, and seldom have enough fluid intake.”

But, it’s not just children we should be concerned about, Graber notes. “Older adults love to garden. They go outside early in the day when the temperature is cool. Then, as the desert summer temps slowly pick up, they may not even be aware how their body temperature has risen.”

The sun may be hammering the back of the neck and hands, the ears and nose, especially if they began the day in a t-shirt and without a hat, and stayed that way through the mid afternoon; the strongest sun rays usually occur between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Sunlight contains three types of dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays. UVA rays cause skin aging and wrinkling and can contribute to skin cancers. UVB rays can cause sunburn, lead toward cloudy cataracts of the eyes, may damage the immune system and also contribute to skin cancer. And then there are the most highly dangerous UVC rays, fortunately blocked from reaching the earth by the ozone layer.

How can you avoid the UVA and UVB rays? The obvious answers are to stay indoors or to cover up as completely as possible. Not always very practical. So, accept them we must, though not without a fight say numerous sources:

  • Avoid sun exposure during the sun’s peak hours, usually 10-2
  • Apply sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher a half hour before sun exposure and then reapply regularly, remembering the nose, ears, neck and hair partings
  • Wear sunglasses with 99-100% UV protection
  • Use a SPF-rated lip balm
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat
  • Stay hydrated with plenty of water
  • Stay covered as best you can
  • If possible, stay under an umbrella

All of these suggestions apply to the elderly as well. As we age our skin becomes thinner and more fragile, requiring even more attention and care than we might be used to.

And older people may have difficulty with upper body movements, so sunscreens that are easy to apply, such as those in towlette form or as powders or gels, are  valuable. Additionally, since skin of the elderly is often dry, doctors suggest chemical-free or water-based sunscreens.

“The sun can be our friend,” says LaSalle’s founder Dr. Albert Arteaga, “but a friend we greet with care. Sunburns, especially in youth, can harm us all many years later.”

About LaSalle Medical Associates
LaSalle’s philosophy is that everyone deserves quality health care, and to be treated by his or her physician with dignity and respect. LaSalle Medical Associates clinics welcome low income, elderly and disabled patients. They accept most insurance.

LaSalle has four Inland Empire clinics. Two are in San Bernardino at 1505 West 17th Street and 565 North Mt. Vernon Avenue, the Fontana facility at 17577 Arrow Boulevard and Hesperia’s at 16455 Main Street.

For more information or to make an appointment, call (909) 890-0407.