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Experts warn of too much summer sun

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

As summer kicks off, unofficially, doctors are recommending those spending time outdoors take precautions to avoid skin damage due to sun exposure.

Too much sun exposure can accelerate signs of aging, including wrinkles and a leathery look to the skin, and potentially lead to a diagnosis of skin cancer, officials at Henry Medical Center in Stockbridge said.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., the hospital said, and more than 90 percent of all skin cancers are caused by sun exposure.

Dr. Shifay Cheng, with Tara Dermatology Center in Stockbridge, said taking care of one's skin is critical when spending time in the sun.

"It's crucial to use a good sun protection sunscreen," Cheng said. "I recommend using a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher."

Store-bought sunscreens offer several different SPF levels, but, she said, experts recommend at least SPF 15 or higher.

Some sunscreens go as high as SPF 50, but Cheng said using a product with SPF levels that high is optional.

"Beyond 30, you can use it, but it's not necessarily needed," Cheng said.

Another way to avoid the dangers of too much sun, she added, is to use sunless tanning products to achieve a tanned look.

Parents need to take extra precautions to protect their children's skin from the sun, said Vicky Ayers, a registered nurse at Henry Medical Center, and the hospital's community educator.

Ayers teaches workshops on how to prevent skin damage, and said children do not always equate too much sun with future health problems. "They certainly aren't thinking years ahead they can get skin cancer," she said.

Ayers said she visits local schools to present a program called "Summer Sun Safety," which outlines to the students tips on how to stay safe in the sun.

"We tell the kids, 'Slip, Slap, Slop,'" said Ayers. "That means, slip on their protective, lightweight clothing, slap on a hat and sunglasses, and slop on their sunscreen. It's a cute, catchy phrase we say over and over in the program."

Ayers said she gives children "ultraviolet bead bracelets" which change from white to various colors when exposed to the sun, then turn white again when brought back indoors.

The first 10 minutes of sun exposure provides an important dose of vitamin D, she explained, but after that amount of time, the danger from ultraviolet rays increases.

Ayers said anyone wanting to learn more about sun safety and skin cancer may visit the hospital's Community Education Department to receive a free pack of sunscreen and a skin cancer brochure, during the month of June.

The Dermatology and Skin Center, in Stockbridge, regularly sees patients with skin damage due to sun exposure, said Dr. Neville Pereyo, a dermatologist with the center.

"We see so many pre-cancer and skin cancer patients," Pereyo said. "Every month we see somebody with a suspicious lesion on their skin."

Many of the patients the clinic sees are teens, and young adults in their 20s, he continued.

When using sun screen, Pereyo advises reapplying it after two or three hours, when perspiring, and after swimming.

Pereyo said skin cancer can also be triggered by a number of other environmental factors, including the use of tanning beds.