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Stay sun savvy

Skin cancer is the most preventable form of cancer, yet it's the most common in young adults 20 to 29 years old.

And did you know that just one bad sunburn in childhood can actually double your chances of being at risk of developing skin cancer?

Azuree Williams, the SunSmart Coordinator for Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre, is looking to get people educated about the risks of skin cancer and break some of the myths about the disease.

One of the common misconceptions is that people of colour don't develop skin cancer. “It is more common in people of European descent,” she said, “but we have had black Bermudians die of skin cancer.

“People think ‘If I am dark skinned I won't burn or have sun damage,' but that's not true. The rates for developing skin cancer are usually lower for people of colour, but survival rates also tend to be lower too.

“Sometimes they find out too late, and because the damage develops over years, by the time people realise something is wrong and go in and get checked the cancer may have already progressed.”

Mrs Williams said another challenge in getting people to act more SunSmart is that they aren't aware of how harmful the sun's radiation can be.

“Yes, the sun is beneficial for Vitamin D and is good for building the immune system, but it also has a down side, especially when there is overexposure to UV rays,” she explained.

That's why Mrs Williams is particularly happy about a new partnership between the Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre and the Bermuda Weather Service. In addition to the daily and weekly forecast, the www.weather.bm site will now be sharing the daily UV Index reading with the public.

Ranging in value from one to 11, the higher the UV Index [UVI] number, the greater the potential for damage to the skin and eyes and the less time it takes for the damage to occur.

When the reading is as low as one or two you can safely stay outside, said Mrs Williams.

But when it's between three and seven, moderate protection such as sunscreen or a hat is needed. If it reaches as high as eight to 11, people should avoid being outside during midday hours, seek shade and make sure to reach for a shirt, sunscreen and a hat.

She said higher UV ratings were quite common in the summer in Bermuda.

In fact when checked yesterday the UVI was ten or ‘very high', despite there being some cloud coverage.

Mrs Williams said that's another myth she hears: that people don't have to wear sunscreen when it's cloudy outside. However, nearly 80 percent of the sun's rays can penetrate the clouds.

Here are some tips for what you can do to protect yourself this summer.

1. Apply sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher at least 20 minutes before going outside and make sure to reapply every two hours. Not only does this thick white cream help to slow ageing, prevent facial brown spots and skin discolourations, it also works to shield the skin from the sun's harmful rays.

2. Heading to the beach for the afternoon? Take an umbrella or a tent to provide you with some shade, especially between the hours of 10am and 4pm. It's hard to avoid the sun when you're on a boat or swimming in the ocean, but when you're on land try and take cover as much as possible.

3. Invest in a decent pair of sunshades, preferably something with broad spectrum protection from both UV A&B rays. Shades are often worn as an accessory item, but they can also help protect your eyes from damage caused by the sun. Ms Williams said there has been an increase in incidents of cataracts in people in their 30s and 40s, when traditionally it was considered a senior's disease. That should be reason enough to slip on some shades during your lunch break or on the ride home from work.

4. Wear appropriate clothing. Sure, in the summer months people tend to wear less clothes — their shorts get shorter and the dress hem lines get higher. However, loose fitting long pants are a popular fashion item this season.

You can also pair a collared, long sleeved shirt with a pair of shorts for a more modest look. Whatever you do try and wear sun protective clothing rather than always exposing your skin to the sun.

5. Find a wide brimmed hat to protect your face, ears and neck. This is especially important for those who work outside and play sports like cricket.

Straw hats are popular because their light material breathes well, providing people with comfort in the hot climate. But make sure that it has a tightly woven cloth fabric lining the inside or else you aren't getting the protection you need.

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Published July 23, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated July 22, 2014 at 10:58 pm)

Stay sun savvy

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