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Outdoor recreation enthusiasts should be more careful than most people about using sunscreen.

By Christine M. Hoch

Excessive exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays can result in a painful sunburn, but can also lead to other serious health problems, including melanoma, cataracts, premature aging of the skin, and immune system suppression. Overexposure to the sun appears to be the most important environmental factor in the development of skin cancers and other sun-related health problems, making these highly preventable.

Skin cancer has increased in the United States: more than one million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in 1998. The incidence of malignant melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer, doubled among whites between 1973 and 1994. One in five Americans will get some form of skin cancer in their lifetime. Furthermore, melanoma is more common than any non-skin cancer among people between 25 and 29 years old. One blistering sunburn could double one's risk of developing melanoma.

The three major types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Basal and squamous cell carcinomas can cause substantial illness and, untreated, can cause considerable damage and disfigurement. If detected and treated early, however, these carcinomas have a cure rate of more than 95%. Malignant melanoma causes more than 75% of all deaths from skin cancer. Malignant melanoma diagnosed at an early stage usually can be cured, whereas when diagnosed at a late stage is more likely to spread and cause death.

People can take many simple steps to plan ahead and protect themselves from the sun's UV rays. These options are important to remember all year round and during all outdoor activities, and not just when at the pool or beach.


  • Wear sunglasses that block 99-100% of UV radiation
  • Sunglasses that provide 99%-100% UVA and UVB protection will greatly reduce sun exposure that can lead to cataracts and other eye damage.
  • Wear a hat
  • A hat with a wide brim offers good sun protection over eyes, ears, face, and the back of the neck.
  • Protect other areas with clothing during prolonged periods in the sun
  • Tightly woven, loose-fitting clothes are best, but any clothing is better than none at all.
  • Always use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher
  • A sunscreen with Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 blocks most of the harmful UV rays. Apply sunscreen liberally and often while outdoors.
  • Limit time in the sun during the midday hours
  • The sun's UV rays are strongest between 10 am and 4pm. Seek shade when possible during these hours.

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