Baking toward disaster

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- When I was 15, I worked at a sandwich shop. The job allowed me to interact with many interesting people on a daily basis. 

One profound encounter I will always remember involved two female customers, who I presumed to be a mother and a daughter out for a meal. 

One day, the daughter handed over some money to pay for both meals. I took the opportunity to mention what a nice gesture she had done in taking her mom to lunch. 

The customers looked at each other awkwardly for a moment and began to laugh. The daughter then proceeded to tell me that they were actually sisters, only five or six years apart. 

The older sister was actually only 29 years old but looked to me like she was easily in her early 40's. While apologizing profusely, I witnessed firsthand the dark side to tanning. 

Ultraviolet radiation (UVR), whether from the sun or from indoor tanning machines, contains several known human carcinogens. UVR damages the body's DNA, leading to mutations in genes that lead to skin cancer. 

Skin cancer doesn't discriminate. 

There are more than one million new cases of skin cancer annually in the United States alone. 

Although light-skinned people are more susceptible to skin burning, people with darker skin have risks as well. A statistic from the Skin Cancer Foundation states, "One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence doubles the risk of melanoma later in life; five sunburns by any age doubles the risk as well." 

A misconception we've all heard is that a "base tan" helps prevent sun burn. 

This is false. 

There is no such thing as a healthy tan. Tanning is simply the skin's response to DNA damage. 

You can never protect the skin by damaging it. 

However, you can take the proper steps to help prevent premature aging and skin cancer, including melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. 

The sunscreen aisle of almost every food and drug store offers several choices in sun protection. Knowing your options and what all the acronyms mean can go a long way toward saving your skin. 

First, make sure to look for sunscreens which protect against both UVA and UVB rays. 

UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB, and are the cause behind wrinkling and leathering of the skin. UVA contributes to and may start the development of skin cancers. 

UVB rays are even more potent than UVA rays and are considered the main source of basal and squamous cell carcinomas, also a leading cause of melanoma. 

Next, look for sunscreens with the correct amount of SPF. 

An SPF of 15 means about 93% of incoming UV rays are blocked, SPF 30 blocks 97%, and SPF 50 blocks 99%. Those percentages may seem minute to a healthy person. For those that have a history of skin cancer, however, the small numbers could make a large difference. 

Finally, make sure you apply sunscreen geared towards your specific outdoor activity. 

The type of sunscreen you should use depends on your activity level. 

If you work or play outside, a stronger, waterproof/sweat resistant sunscreen works best. 

They are stickier and are designed to stay in place. 

Regardless of the type of sunscreen you decide to purchase, application is the key to success. 

You should reapply sunscreen every two hours. A good rule of thumb to follow is that you should use around one quarter to one half of an 8 oz. bottle per application. 

In addition, apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before first sun exposure to allow the skin to bind to the sunscreen. 

If you spend most of your time indoors, a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 would most likely suffice. Keep in mind, however, that reapplication is just as important as putting it on the first time. 

Society may emphasize that "tan equals beauty." 

With concerted effort, we can start changing this unhealthy notion today. 

Instead of "tan equals beauty," let's start to say "pale is the new tan."