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UV Safety Awareness Month
There are hundreds of different awareness months, weeks and days throughout the year that are designed to highlight specific issues and popular topics.
Many relate to health and wellbeing and allow people to come together, share their experiences and raise money for specific causes. Here we look at UV Safety Awareness Month and why it’s important that people are aware of the link between UV radiation and skin cancer.
What is the Aim of UV Safety Awareness Month?
With summer underway for those residing in the northern hemisphere and many people hitting the beaches, understanding the impact of ultraviolet radiation (UV) is important.
Run by the US Department of Health and Human Services, UV Safety Awareness Month aims to educate people about the dangers of long-term exposure and how covering up and using sunscreen is so important.
When is UV Safety Awareness Month?
UV Safety Awareness Month takes place during the whole of July and a variety of education events are held online and in various places throughout the world. These events provide a lot of information to the public, such as advice related to the best sunscreen to use as well as guidelines for how to perform a body check for signs of melanoma.
Understanding UV Radiation and its link with Skin Cancer
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is emitted by the sun and it can cause damage to the skin.
UV light is a form of radiation and, while we can’t see it, we can feel its warming effect on the skin. You can also be exposed to UV radiation via man-made products such as welding torches and sunbeds.
The critical factor with UV light is its role in the development of skin cancer. There are two types of radiation, both of which have the potential to cause harm:
- Ultraviolet A (UVA) is associated with the ageing of the skin and has a relatively long wavelength.
- Ultraviolet B (UVB) causes the skin to burn after long sun exposure and is a shorter wavelength.
Both UVA and UVB can cause damage to the skin, although they do so in different ways. It’s not just the skin that might be damaged by long term exposure to the sun – it can also affect the eyes leading to cataracts and eyelid cancers.
The most well known danger of this type of exposure is skin cancer. Two common types of cancer associated with UV exposure are basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), which appear as lesions on the skin. When we get sunburnt, we also increase our risk of developing melanoma which is the most dangerous type of skin cancer.
Tips for Staying Protected from the Sun
According to skincancer.org:
- 20% of Americans will develop some kind of skin cancer before they reach the age of 70.
- If a person suffers sunburn more than 5 times, it will double their risk of developing melanoma.
- If detected early, the prognosis for surviving skin cancer today is very good.
As with many cancer types, certain choices can be made to help to reduce the risk of skin cancer developing.
1. Wear Sunscreen
It’s important to apply the right amount of sunscreen and cover all exposed areas. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher for any extended outdoor activity. Regardless of the SPF, though, it’s important to apply one ounce (two tablespoons) 30 minutes before going outside and reapply it every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating.
2. Wear a Hat and Protective Clothing
Covering the head and wearing clothing such as a long-sleeved t-shirt is the best way to protect the skin from UV radiation. Many companies produce special clothing with UV protection. Certain materials and weave structures create sun-protective properties. In addition, some manufacturers pre-treat the sun-protective clothing with UV-inhibiting ingredients to increase its effectiveness.
Sunglasses that protect against UV light are also important if spending time outdoors, especially on bright, hot days.
3. Stay Out of the Hot Sun
In many parts of the US during summer, the time between noon and about 4 pm is usually the hottest. Avoiding going out in the direct sun and staying in the shade at this time can certainly reduce the risk of developing skin cancer.
4. Regular Skin Checks
It’s also essential to carry out regular checks of the skin. Look for changes in moles and freckles or anything that looks unusual. This is best done in front of a mirror where there is good light. The American Cancer Society has a useful self-examination guide on their website.
If blemishes or unusual changes to the skin are noticed, it’s important to check with a physician who will be able to perform an examination and carry out a biopsy and full diagnosis if deemed necessary. Early detection generally leads to a positive outcome when it comes to skin cancer.
5. Be Aware of Other Risk Factors
Finally, there are a few other factors that make some people more at risk of developing skin cancer.
If someone has a lighter skin tone they are more susceptible, for example. People with larger moles or congenital moles or a history of sunburn are also at a higher risk.
There is evidence to suggest of a familial component being relevant to skin cancer – if there is a history of melanoma in the family, then extra precautions should be considered by the individual to reduce their risk.