July is National UV Safety Month when Americans of all ages are reminded to protect their skin and eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation is not just a summertime occurrence, but a year-round constant even on cloudy and hazy days. UV radiation is the main cause of skin cancer and can cause eye damage including cataracts and macular degeneration, the primary causes of vision loss in seniors. In addition, harmful UV exposure can weaken the immune system, increase sun spots and wrinkles, and lead to premature aging.
In the U.S., skin cancer is the most common form of cancer with more than 4 million new cases diagnosed each year. Proper UV protection lowers the risk of developing all types of skin cancer. UV Safety Month aims to educate individuals on how to protect themselves from overexposure to the sun. Anyone can get skin cancer, but people with fair skin, blond or red hair, and blue or green eyes are at greatest risk.
Right at Home, a leading provider of in-home companion and personal care to senior citizens and other adults, sees the effect of cumulative UV radiation exposure in the clients it serves worldwide. Because of their many years in the sun, seniors are particularly vulnerable to skin cancer and vision problems. Our caregivers are mindful about helping our clients apply sunscreen before going outdoors and assisting with regular skin checks. National UV Safety Month is a life-saving cause, and we always want people to be safe in the sun.
Today’s older Americans face increased sun-related health problems because when they were growing up, little was known or communicated about protection from UV rays. Fortunately, widespread support for UV safety from the country’s medical community is currently helping reduce painful and life-threatening conditions from too much sun exposure. The following are recommended ways to protect both adult and children’s skin and eyes from damaging UV radiation:
Before going outdoors, generously apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher to all exposed skin. Reapply sunscreen after swimming or sweating and about every two hours in the sun.
Wear protective clothing including long sleeves and a broad-brimmed hat that shades the face, ears and neck.
Wear polarized sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of UV rays and wrap around to protect eyes from every angle. The ability to protect the eyes does not depend on the sunglass lens’ darkness or cost.
Limit time spent in direct sun, especially when the sun’s rays are most intense, usually from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Be cautious around the intensified UV light of sunlight that reflects off water, snow, sand and cement.
Avoid tanning beds, sunlamps and welding lamps, which also give off UV radiation.
Regularly check your skin for any changes and consult a dermatologist about any areas of the skin that bleed or have changed color or size. During periodic health exams, ask your doctor for a skin cancer check.
The American Cancer Society promotes a clever slogan that is easy to remember for ultimate UV radiation protection: Slip! Slop! Slap! and Wrap. Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat and wrap on sunglasses. Also to help in planning outdoor activities, the Environmental Protection Agency (www.epa.gov/sunwise/uvindex.html) offers an online daily measurement of the sun’s UV rays nationwide on a scale of 1 to 11. A higher UV index calls for maximum sun protection.
In addition to advocating personal monitoring of sun exposure, National UV Safety Month is an opportunity for businesses and community organizations to raise awareness about UV safety by posting tips about reducing everyday UV exposure and sun protection on vacation. Groups also are encouraged to ask a health professional to demonstrate regular skin cancer checks for employees and members. The goal of personal and community-wide awareness of UV safety year-round is to reduce the harmful effects of UV rays for everyone—babies through seniors.