One in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lifetime, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. The primary cause? The sun. That’s bad news for anyone living in a place called the Sunshine State.
While much of the nation is enjoying cooler temperatures – and some parts are getting ready for an explosion of autumn colors – Floridians can expect just two colors: green and red. For the bulk of the year, no place is greener than the Sunshine State. Our nearly 12 months of summer-like conditions encourages plants, from majestic live oaks to every kind of garden ornamental, to proliferate. All that sunshine also tends to bake residents and visitors alike to a bright red that would rival a Maine lobster on its worst day.
So much of what makes Florida a great place to live in or visit is its vast array of outdoor activities. Whether you are driving off the tee on the local golf links, hunting seashells on Sanibel or plunging down a water slide, there is always the chance that your fun day will end with a painful sunburn.
“Sunburns sneak up on us,” said Dr. Carol L. Roberts, medical director at the Naples Center for Functional Medicine. “No one plans to go out and get a burn, but it happens to most of us if we are not careful. Fortunately, there are simple steps we can take that will help us enjoy the outdoors while maintaining healthy, unburned skin.”
The American Academy of Dermatology reports that 90% of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers a UV Index of 11 to be the start of the extreme risk range. Southwest Florida often reaches an index level of 12! The simplest way to keep UV rays from damaging our skin is to stay indoors. But, if you want to enjoy the great outdoors, be sure to do some or all of the following:
- Wear sunblock: You can’t walk into a store in Florida without finding a display of sunblock lotions and sprays. Classics brands such as Coppertone, Banana Boat, and Hawaiian Tropic can be found alongside natural blends like Neutrogena, Aveeno and Blue Lizard. Read the labels and remember that ingredients are absorbed by your skin even if the sun is not! Some ingredients in popular sunscreen brands have been found to contain hormone disruptors and carcinogens; look for a brand with zinc oxide as the main ingredient, especially if purchasing sunscreen for children.
- Wear protective clothing: It’s no wonder that commercial fishing guides in Florida wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants with a face wrap. Keeping the sun off the body is the best way to prevent unwanted exposure. A wide-brimmed hat keeps the sun off your neck and ears, and they are available just about everywhere.
- Eat right: Get your UV protection from the inside out. Certain types of foods packed with antioxidants offer natural, built-in UV protection. The Academy of Culinary Protection suggests blueberries, walnuts, chia seeds, carrots, tomatoes, dark leafy greens and cacao powder. Yes, dark chocolate helps prevent sun damage.
- Open an umbrella…or as the French say, a parasol: “Para” means “defense from” and “sol” means “sun.” In any language, it’s portable shade. More permanent shade can be found under trees, but be sure there is no lightning in the area!
- Pay attention to the time of day: Dermatologists often advise patients to limit their time outdoors between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the period when the sun’s rays are intense. The general rule is that if your shadow is shorter than you, it’s time to head indoors – that means the sun is at its strongest.
- Don’t let clouds fool you: On cloudy days, you may not need your sunglasses, but believe it or not, clouds don’t do a lot to block UV rays. It’s not uncommon for UV rays to fall in the “moderate” to “high” range even when the sun is hidden. Clouds come and go in Southwest Florida in minutes, so it’s best to be prepared no matter how the sky looks.
As always, consult with your physician prior to making any substantial lifestyle, health or nutritional changes. To schedule an appointment and discuss your personal health and wellness goals, call the Naples Center for Functional Medicine at 239-649-7400 or submit an appointment request through our online form.