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Protecting Your Skin From the Sun


Duke Health News 919-660-1306

The incidence of skin cancer in the U.S. has doubled during the past decade. This troubling trend is especially pronounced among young people, for whom early over-exposure to the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays can lead to a lifelong threat of developing melanoma.

James Grichnik, M.D., a dermatologist at Duke University Medical Center, confirms the potential dangers of UV radiation in our society. "The major problem is increased exposure to ultraviolet light. If you look at people a hundred years ago, when they went to the beach, they covered up. There certainly weren't tanning booths like we see now.

"Going into a tanning booth is like smoking -- you may not get skin cancer but you're certainly going to cause premature skin aging, and you certainly are increasing your risk of getting skin cancer," says Grichnik.

He describes a simple, three-step program to help prevent skin damage from UV rays. First, since approximately 75 percent of UV radiation hits the earth during the two hours on either side of high noon, try to schedule indoor activities during the middle of the day. This will significantly reduce the amount of UV light we receive.

Second, clothing reflects light away and is easier to put on than sunscreens, so it makes sense to cover up outdoors. "People in the desert don't tend to go around in swimming trunks or bikinis. They know better; they know to cover up," says Grichnik.

Third, he recommends using sunscreens with a minimum SPF of 15, preferably those with a rating of 30 or higher. Those products containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are best, since they reflect light away.

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