Summer Begins Today: Safety Key to Fun in the Sun

Story Number: NNS130621-12Release Date: 6/21/2013 2:19:00 PM
A  A  A   Email this story to a friend   Print this story
By Sarah Marshall, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Public Affairs

BETHESDA, Md. (NNS) -- Summer officially begins June 21 and doctors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) urge everyone to keep sun safety in mind while enjoying the warmer weather.

Skin cancer is the most common form of all cancers, accounting for nearly half of all cancers in the U.S., according to Army Maj. (Dr.) Max Gratrix, a staff dermatologist at WRNMMC. In 2013, the most severe type of skin cancer, melanoma, will account for more than 76,600 cases, he added.

"The best way to lower the risk of skin cancer is to avoid long exposure to intense sunlight and practice sun safety," Gratrix said, since the most common cause of skin cancer is sun exposure.

The dermatologist suggests avoiding direct sun exposure between 10 a.m. and about 4 p.m., when the sun's rays are the most intense and harmful. One way to determine when the sun's rays are at the strongest is to take note of your shadow: if it's shorter than you, the sun's rays are the strongest, he explained, and that's when it's best to avoid prolonged exposure.

Regardless of what time of day you are outside - and whether it is warm, cool or cloudy - sunscreen should always be worn, according to Cmdr. (Dr.) Adam Saperstein, a Family Medicine practitioner at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Additionally, sunscreen should be applied every two to three hours, even if it is a sport or "anti-sweat" type, and it should offer UVA and UVB protection, since both types of the sun's rays can cause cancer, he said.

Both doctors recommend using a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30. This level of protection will cover 97 percent of the sun's rays, they said. Saperstein added sunscreens with an SPF of 50 or greater, do not offer significantly greater coverage. When it comes to the price tag, he said sunscreen doesn't have to be expensive to mean it's "better," which is often a misconception.

"The worst sun screen you can buy is the one you don't put on," Saperstein said.

Pick a type that works best for you and your children, and be sure to apply it at least 30 minutes before sun exposure so it has time to absorb, Gratrix added. He went on to note certain clothing can also offer protection from the sun.

"Choose comfortable clothes made of tightly woven fabrics that you cannot see through when held up to the light," Gratrix said. It's also important to make sure the fabric is light, and breathable, during warmer weather to avoid over-heating, he said.

Wearing a wide-brimmed hat can also offer additional protection from the sun, so can sun glasses with 100 percent UVA and UVB absorption, to protect the eyes and surrounding skin, Gratrix added.

Everyone should follow these precautions, regardless of age, race, gender or skin type, the dermatologist continued. He also urges individuals to know the signs of skin cancer: a mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest, or is changing in size, shape or color.

The most common type of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma (BCC), which often looks like a flesh-colored bump, while squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) can appear as a firm bump, scaly patch or ulcer. Early treatment, and skin exams, can help prevent both BCC and SCC from spreading to other areas of the body, he said. Melanoma, the most severe form of skin cancer, also has a high cure rate when detected early. It often appears as a mole or a new dark spot on the skin. More than 8,500 Americans die every year from melanoma, making it the deadliest form of skin cancer, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

Gratrix went on to note, those with a family history of skin cancer, sunburns, or scarring caused by a disease or burn, should take extra precaution, as these factors may increase their risk for skin cancer. The dermatologist added tanning beds are never a "safe" alternative to the sun, and can also increase the risk for skin cancer.

Saperstein added people should not try to avoid the outdoors or fear the sun altogether since it has its benefits, like providing vitamin D.

Gratrix agreed, stating sun exposure should always be in moderation.

"You can still enjoy the outdoors while using sun safety," he said.

For more news from National Naval Medical Center, visit

Navy Social Media
Sign up for email updates To sign up for updates or to access your subscriber preferences, please click on the envelope icon in the page header above or click Subscribe to Navy News Service.