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Published: Monday, 6/9/2008

Summer's best defense: Wearing the right sunscreen can protect against skin cancer

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo native Gretchen Bleiler spends days drenched in sunlight reflected off snowy mountains, giving the medal-winning professional snowboarder a rush of unwanted ultraviolet rays.

Using typical sunscreen to ward off facial sunburn would sting the athlete's eyes, not to mention be too greasy. But Ms. Bleiler, the 2008 X Games halfpipe gold medalist, is one of several athletes that helped Mission Product come up with a line of sunscreen, lip protector, and other skin-care products geared toward athletes to address their needs.

The lineup includes a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30, which has anti-sting technology to protect eyes, is greaseless, and has vitamin E to nourish skin. Another of Ms. Bleiler's favorites is Mission Lip Protector SPF 20.

"The whole idea - products for the athlete, by the athlete - was really appealing to me," said Ms. Bleiler, who was 10 when her family moved from Ohio to Colorado, where she learned to snowboard.

Whether an outdoor athlete such as Ms. Bleiler, 27, a child as young as 6 months, or an adult of any age, everyone should wear sunscreen with at least SPF 15, as well as take other precautions outside, doctors and other experts advise.

Lip balm with sunscreen, wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts and pants, and seeking the shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun's rays are strongest are other suggestions, they said.

Otherwise, people are at an increased risk of developing skin problems ranging from cancer to wrinkles. Eyes, too, should be protected with sunglasses to reduce the risk of developing cataracts, doctors said.

"There's a lot of damage in the sun," said Dr. Harvey Handler, a dermatologist at Flower Hospital in Sylvania.

Said dermatologist Dr. Timothy Anders of Anders Dermatology Inc. in Sylvania Township: "Everyone loves the feel of it, that's no kidding. But it does have some bad effects."

More than a million skin cancer cases are diagnosed nationwide annually, although many are caught early and removed. Melamoma is the deadliest form, and roughly 62,500 cases will be diagnosed this year, with nearly 8,420 resulting in death, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Two-thirds of all melanoma cases are caused by sunlight exposure, especially if it resulted in bad burning and blistering, said Dr. Adnan Al-Khalili, an oncologist with Mercy Cancer Centers.

"This is the killer - this is the most serious one," Dr. Al-Khalili said.

Bad suntanning habits from decades past are catching up with people, causing an increase in skin cancer cases, said Dr. Anders, the Sylvania Township dermatologist.

People have a one in 33 chance of developing melanoma, and a one in five chance of getting any type of skin cancer, he noted.

"In the '60s, '70s, '80s, everyone was out there putting oil on, basting themselves," Dr. Anders said."We're seeing all this now."

Skin cancer cases have increased in the last five to seven years, the after effects of people spending more time outdoors, said Dr. Handler, the Flower dermatologist.

Generally, people do not use enough sunscreen, and they do not re-apply it as they should, doctors and experts said. The equivalent of a shot glass should be applied every two hours, more often while sweating or swimming, they said.

It's important to slather on enough sunscreen so it is visible about 30 minutes before sun exposure, giving it enough time to soak in, Dr. Handler said.

Sunscreen shouldn't be abandoned on cloudy days, either, because up to 80 percent of the sun's ultraviolet rays can pass through clouds, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Dr. Handler said he primarily sees patients with bad sunburns in April and May because it is cooler and people stay in the sun longer than expected without protection.

While skin cancer is not as common in darker-skinned people, melanoma tends to be found on their palms, soles, and nails at an advanced and deadly stage because those areas are not frequently checked for skin changes, said Dr. Anders, the Sylvania Township dermatologist.

Overall, melanoma tends to develop in men who work in construction and other outdoor jobs, while women primarily are affected by overexposure to sunbathing and tanning beds, said Dr. Al-Khalili, the Mercy oncologist.

Children are especially sensitive to ultraviolet rays, although those younger than six months should wear protective clothing instead of sunscreen because they do not metabolize the chemicals well, doctors said.

There is a variety of protective clothing with SPF of 30 to 50 for both children and adults, while wet T-shirts mistakenly used by people for protection while swimming only have an SPF of 2, said Dr. Handler of Flower. Wide-brimmed hats are especially critical for men, who tend to have shorter hair than women, he said.

Reflected sunlight at the beach and from snow magnifies damaging effects, said Dr. Al-Khalili of Mercy.

Sand reflects 25 percent of the sun's rays and snow reflects 80 percent, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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