June 19, 2008

Chattanooga: Americans Playing With Fire With Sun Risks

By Kathy Gilbert, Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn.

Jun. 19--Sunshine peaks tomorrow, the longest day of the year. Yet health professionals increasingly warn that old sol is as much foe as friend, especially during the next few weeks.

"It's a lifestyle issue. Prevention is part of the game," said Victor Czerkasij, a family nurse practitioner at Skin Cancer & Cosmetic Dermatology Center based in Dalton, Ga.

Sunburn was once our only summer skin worry. Today, scientists know better. Skin cancer numbers are still rising by 3 percent each year, even as other cancers decline.

One in 7 United States residents will develop some form of skin cancer during their lifetimes, the National Cancer Institute reports. People with pale skin, red hair and freckles have the greatest risk.

Melanoma, the most severe skin cancer, results when a person's skin pigmentation -- called 'melanin'-- goes into overdrive when tanning.

"The body desperately tries to protect itself by shooting out more melanin. If one of your melanin sites can't shut off, it becomes melanoma," Mr. Czerkasij said.

All skin types can become sun-damaged, wrinkled, pre-maturely aged or cancerous, because sun damage comes from two different types of rays. Ultraviolet-B (UVB) rays hit the skin's top layer, causing sunburn. Ultraviolet-A (UVA) rays blast into lower layers, causing wrinkling, premature aging and, in some caces, cancer.

Like many people these days, Signal Mountain substitute teacher Anna Ramsey saw for herself how UVA did its dirty work in her youth.

"I grew up in Florida and was out in the sun all the time. But I didn't see sun damage spots on my skin until I reached my 40s," said Mrs. Ramsey, 46.

Now she wears Clarins or Bullfrog brand sunscreens, at least SPF 30, and seeks out shade.

Stephanie Polen, a 38-year-old Chattanooga mother and co-owner of www.dspwebdesigns.com, also avoids sun exposure.

"I'm past trying to be tan -- that was in the 80s," she said. "We used to do things like put Crisco on our skin and lay out in the backyard. We literally cooked our skin.

"Now we use (Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50) sunscreen," Mrs. Polen said, "and I always try to find a shady spot."

But others still pledge to stick to their deep-tanning routines.

"I've got sunscreen, but I don't use it," said Shirley Hughes, a 45-year-old Wal-Mart associate from Dalton, Ga. who tans twice a week. "I'm not worried about it. I'm going to die one day of something -- might as well be pretty and brown."

Such attitudes are common, but they also drive rising skin cancer rates, Mr. Czerkasij said.

"Our society believes a bronze body is admirable and healthy. I have a lot of teenage girls coming in before prom, for example, and they blister themselves. I give them a lecture, but they say they'll still do tanning," he said.

"We need to think of less tanning as the new chic," he added. "That's a hard battle to fight but we'll try."


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