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To Your Health: Sunshine can hurt you, protect your skin!

Like many who live in the northern latitudes, Maine residents look forward to the summer months when they can peel off the wool and fleece and let their skin enjoy the warmth of the sun. For fishermen, the summer means something else: long days exposed to the sun’s rays pouring from the sky and bouncing off the water. All that sunshine can cause serious harm to exposed skin and eyes. Proper protection, begun early in the season, can go a long way toward preventing long-term damage.

When you get a sunburn, you have been burned by radiation. Sunshine is made up of three kinds of ultraviolet radiation — UVA, UVB, and UVC. The earth’s atmosphere soaks up most of the UVC radiation, but UVA and B reach the ground. Those radiation waves bounce around within the upper layer of skin cells, damaging the cells’ DNA. The human body has ways of repairing damaged DNA but as you expose your skin to sunlight more and more often, the probability increases that some damage will escape repair. The damaged DNA may eventually lead to skin cancer.

Exposure to the sun is more than an occasional sunburn. Over time it can do significant damage to your skin's DNA. V. Wadleigh photo.

Any exposed part of your body, including your earlobes, scalp, and lips, can get sunburned. If you wear clothes with a loose weave, ultraviolet light can pass through and toast your skin. Your eyeballs are extremely sensitive to sunlight and, believe it or not, can also become sunburned.

One way that the body protects itself from the sun’s radiation is through the production of melanin. Melanin is a substance in your body that causes hair, eye, and skin pigmentation. The more melanin you produce, the darker your eyes, hair and skin will be. Melanin absorbs UV radiation. It protects the skin cells’ DNA by mostly dispersing the harmful UV rays. But melanin alone isn’t enough to protect your skin from sun damage. That’s why it’s so important to wear sunscreen and appropriate clothing whenever you’re outside.

A sunburn can happen on cool or cloudy days. Snow, sand, water, and other surfaces reflect UV rays and can cause the skin to burn too. Sunburns in childhood and adolescence may increase your risk of developing melanoma later in life.

Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, develops in the cells that produce melanin. Melanoma can also form in your eyes. Fortunately, it can be treated successfully if it is detected early. There are several very simple steps you can take to prevent damaging your skin during the fishing season.

Cover up When outside wear a wide-brimmed hat and clothing that covers you completely. Dark colors offer more protection, as do tightly woven fabrics. Consider using outdoor gear specially designed to provide sun protection. Check the label for its ultraviolet protection factor (UPF), which indicates how well a fabric blocks sunlight. The higher the UPF number, the better.

Use sunscreen frequently and generously Apply water-resistant sunscreen and lip balm with an SPF of 30 or greater and broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreen should be generously applied about 15 to 30 minutes before heading out. Put on more sunscreen every two hours and after swimming or sweating heavily.

Wear sunglasses when outdoors Choose sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection. Check the UV rating on the label when buying sunglasses. Darker lenses are not necessarily better at blocking UV rays. Wear sunglasses that fit close to your face or have wraparound frames.

For more information on protecting your skin and the warning signs of skin cancer, visit the Mayo Clinic website.

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