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`Healthy Tan' a Contradiction in Terms, Physician Says

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COLUMBUS, Ga. - Kelli Pogue sees burnt people.

"Sometimes, I want to come off my stand and tell them to put something on to protect themselves but I can't really do that," the lifeguard said while sitting under a huge umbrella at the pool.

It's summertime and the living is over easy if you're not taking the proper precautions to protect yourself against the sun. Many don't.

"The big problem," insists dermatologist Lloyd Sampson, "isn't the strength of the sunscreen used but that too many people just don't use it at all. And I'm not just talking about while swimming or sitting in a boat. Whether it's at work or play, if you're outside in the sun you should be protected."

But what about if you're not pale, if you already have a healthy tan?

"That's an oxymoron," the Columbus physician said. "There is no such thing as a healthy tan. Damage has already been done. Sunscreen and other protective measures always need to be used especially at this time of year."

Health experts these days suggest a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 15 or higher to scatter harmful ultraviolet rays. The SPF indicates how long the sun's ultraviolet radiation takes to cause a certain degree of reddening on the skin as compared to the same degree of reddening without the sunscreen. For example, if your skin usually burns in 10 minutes, then an SPF of 15 means you should be able to stay in the sun 15 times longer or 150 minutes.

SPF is only a measure of protection against UVB rays, the ones that burn the skin. SPF doesn't measure protection against UVA rays, the aging rays that penetrate more deeply into the skin. Some sunscreens protect against both.

Ultraviolet exposure, according to the Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, is the "most important environmental factor in the development of skin cancer and a primary factor in the development of lip cancer."

The American Sun Protection Association states that 1.3 million people will be diagnosed with skin cancer nationally during the year. It is the most common form of cancer in the country and the most common for women ages 25-29.

The ASPA adds that consistent use of sunscreen in childhood and adolescence could reduce skin cancer incidence by 78 percent.

It is especially important to keep children protected, states a report by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, because the damaging effects of the sun's rays add up over time: "Severe sunburn or continued exposure to the sun early on in life may be related to skin cancer later in life."

The children with the following characteristics are particularly vulnerable to skin cancer: fair complexion, chronic exposure to the sun, history of sunburns early in life, freckles and a large number of moles.

Pogue said the majority of parents she sees around the swimming pool do apply some protection to their children, but it's not always applied in the best fashion.

"You see these splotches where it's been heavily applied but there are a lot of areas left unprotected."

"It doesn't have to be real thick," explains Sampson, "but you should get some on all areas which are exposed."

If water's going to be involved, people should be sure to get a lotion that is water-resistant.

And even if you're not going in the water, it doesn't take long for the lotion to lose its power. It is washed away by perspiration and is absorbed into the skin. Also, wearing an insect repellent may reduce the effectiveness.

"You should reapply your sunscreen every couple of hours," Pogue said. "I know I do."

The sunscreen should be applied in even layers, Sampson said, about 30 minutes before getting the exposure.

Besides sunscreen, you can protect yourself by wearing clothes of tightly woven fabric and dark colors. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat, when possible, also is advised.

"I've seen some parents applying lotion to children around the pool after they've already got a sunburn," Pogue said. "By then, it's too late."



- Wear a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 and preferably one that protects against UVA and UVB rays.

- Apply sunscreen approximately 30 minutes before going into the sun, and reapply about every two hours, maybe sooner if swimming or if wearing insect repellent.

- Apply sunscreen in a thick, even layer, not missing any exposed body parts.

- Wear a wide-brim hat.

- Wear tightly woven clothing - and dark colors are best.

- Sunscreen has a shelf life of about two years, so check the label.

- A dark complexion or tan doesn't make you immune to sunburn.

- You can suffer from UV exposure even when clouds are around.



Children with any of these characteristics are more susceptible to skin cancer:

- Fair complexion

- Extended exposure to the sun

- History of sunburns early in life

- Freckles

- A large number of moles

Source: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia



SPF: How long the sun's ultraviolet radiation takes to cause reddening on the skin as compared to the same degree of reddening without the sunscreen. If your skin burns in 10 minutes, then SPF 15 means you'll be protected for 15 times longer or 150 minutes.

UVB: The rays that burn the skin. SPF measures protection against these rays.

UVA: The rays that wrinkle the skin. SPF doesn't indicate protection against these rays. But some sunscreens protect against these rays.


(c) 2003, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Ga.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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