CATES: Sun safety time is hereCarol Cates is the chief nursing officer at Odessa Regional Medical Center. You can reach her via e-mail at Carol.Cates@steward.org

June is here, and with the summer months comes an increase in sun exposure. Sun safety is important to remember every day here in sunny Odessa, but as we go into summer, prioritizing sun safety is especially important to protect you and your loved ones from skin damage and skin cancer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can damage skin in as little as 15 minutes, and repeated damage can result can result in skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US. Texas, surprisingly is among the states with the lowest incidence of skin cancer, 13 people per 100,000 being diagnosed with skin cancer. I was very astonished to see that Washington State, a state notorious for having overcast skies and rainy days, has one of the highest rates in the US for skin cancer with 26.1 people per 100,000 being diagnosed with skin cancer—double the Texas rates. Obviously those people in Washington with all their rainy days just don’t think of skin safety in the same way we do here in sunny West Texas. But we still have a significant cancer rate. Even though are rates are lower than most of the US here in Texas, melanoma, the most common type of skin cancer is still a significant issue. Melanoma of the skin ranked 5th in the most common new cancer diagnoses in 2015. In Texas in 2015, 3,468 people were diagnosed with melanoma of the skin, and 504 people died with that diagnosis.
There are many things you can do to reduce your risk of skin damage and skin cancer. One of most effective methods of protecting yourself from sun damage is to remember the phrase slip, slop, slap: Slip on protective clothing, slop on sunscreen, and slap on a hat. Seeking shade whenever possible and protecting your eyes with sunglasses will also reduce your risk of sun exposure.
Use sunscreen frequently while you are exposed to the sun’s rays. Sunscreen needs to be applied regularly—at least every 2 hours, and after swimming, sweating, or toweling off. Sunscreen also expires, before using the bottle left over from last summer, make sure you check the expiration date. Make sure you are using a broad spectrum sunscreen. SPF is only an indication of protection against UVB rays, so a product with high SPF that does not contain any protection from UVA rays means you are still vulnerable to skin damage. Experts recommend looking for mineral active ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as they not only provide both good UVA and UVB protection, but they have not been linked to other health issues. Some chemicals in sunscreens like oxybenzone, have been linked to increases in hormone levels and allergies, particularly in children. The FDA is currently looking at how sunscreens are tested for safety and efficacy, so we may be seeing some significant changes in how sunscreens are rated in the future, but for now it is up to individual consumers to read labels and make sure the sunscreen they choose is appropriate for them. Some good resources to help you choose which sunscreen is right for you are: EWG’s 2019 Guide to Sunscreens www.ewg.org/sunscreens and Consumer Reports Best Sunscreens of 2019 www.consumerreports.org/sunscreens/best-sunscreens-of-the-year These organizations are non-biased and research driven when they make these product recommendations.
Summer is a wonderful time to get outdoors and enjoy time with friends and family. Before you head out of doors, make sure you are protecting yourself and your loved ones with slip, slop, slap. Slip on clothes that cover, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat, and then go have a great time under our beautiful, sunny, West Texas skies!