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Into The Wild: Enjoy the sun, but protect yourself

We all know that one guy or gal, or family coming off the water at the end of the day from fishing or hanging out on the boat … their skin is beet red and you know they’ll be in agony the next couple of days from the pain. After the initial sunburn starts to settle, then the ugly part comes; the peeling, itching, sleepless nights, not a pleasant experience. A good tan looks good; so what is a sunburn and should we really be concerned about it?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), there is a lot going on with a sunburn and a tan, and it may not be as good as one would think. A sunburn is actually the skin’s response to exposure to the sun and is evidence of ultraviolet rays (UV) damage. The color formed from a tan is a sign of damage and peeling is the body shedding damaged skin cells. While the skin is shed, the damage in the underlying layers of the skin and within the cells is already done. The damage to the skin can cause skin cancer, which is the most common type of cancer in the United States. According to the AAD, 1 in 5 will develop skin cancer and it’s estimated that 9,500 people are diagnosed with it every day in the U.S. It’s been reported that skin cancer rates have doubled from 1982 through 2011, and various forms of skin cancer are increasing over 263% from 2000 to 2010. The increase is skin cancer may be correlated to the lack of the ozone layer in the sky. Now, the ozone layer is a natural gas layer found 12 – 20 miles in the stratosphere that shields harmful ultraviolet rays that come from the sun. Without the layer of ozone, it would be very difficult for anything to survive on the Earth.

Can you get skin damage on a cloudy day? You bet you can, according to dermatologists. You don’t have to be in direct sun because UV rays penetrate clouds and haze and that’s why Dr.’s recommend wearing sunscreen on exposed skin whenever venturing outdoors. I’ve noticed myself getting a sun burn while ice fishing too, and that is because sun reflects off of the snow just as it does water. Being out of doors year-round either for the day job, guiding or recreation fishing and hunting, I found it important to protect myself from the harmful rays of the sun. The young and old should take precautions from the sun.

In terms of protecting one’s self throughout the year, carrying a broad spectrum sun screen is a must. The term “broad spectrum” means it protects the skin from ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, both of which cause skin cancer. The SPF labels tells you how well a sunscreen protects from the sun. An SPF of 30 is minimum for good protection so I’d suggest getting an SPF 50 or better. While sunscreens may boast they are waterproof or water resistant, they are not, and if swimming or sweating, it needs to be reapplied a lot. It is recommended that it be reapplied every 2 hours under normal circumstances so if you’re swimming in the water and it gets washed off, reapply often. I carry both a lotion and spray form of sunscreen in my truck for doing field work and on the boats. A good pair of polarized sun glasses is needed when on the water to minimize glare and protect your eyes. A broad brimmed hat that shades the entire head is recommended when in direct sun. Skin cancer in the cartilaginous regions of the body such as the ears and nose are tough for doctors to treat since removing that type of tissue usually requires the skills of a plastic surgeon. Light, long pants and long-sleeved sun protecting “performance wear” is the new norm for most outdoors people. HUK, Columbia, Hooked Soul, all are good brands that have SPF protective clothing. I definitely recommend long sleeved SPF/UFP 50 rated shirts to cover the arms. Head gear can also include a gaiter to protect the ears and neck from the sun reflecting up and off the water. Does all this sound extreme? Well, according to my dermatologist, “the sun is a carcinogen and no one gets out alive”, so take the advice of the professional who sees the damaging effects of the sun every day.

The way skin cancer is removed varies but it’s primarily by surgically removing the spot or freezing it off and early detection is critical in getting the cancer removed before it spreads. Sometimes the tiniest of moles, what may appear as a skin tag, can be precancerous. If you’re someone that spends a lot of time outdoors, I highly recommend scheduling an appointment with a dermatologist and getting a screening at least once a year. Some forms of the cancer are very aggressive and what may appear as a nothing, could be something.