Protect yourself from the sun’s harsh rays with these tips
As the most serious form of skin cancer, melanoma often receives the most attention. However, melanoma is not the most common type of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is diagnosed in 2.8 million people each year, and 700,000 people are diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), compared with the 60,000 with melanoma.
While BCC and SCC occur more frequently, the good news is a precancer – actinic keratosis – makes both types of cancer easier to detect and prevent early on.
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Roughly 65% of all SCC cases arise in lesions that were diagnosed as actinic keratosis. In patients with a history of skin cancer, 36% of BCC cancers are from actinic keratosis lesions.
“Rough, scaly areas on ears or noses can be a sign of actinic keratosis,” says Carolyn Sheridan, a registered nurse who is also the clinical director for the AgriSafe Network. “When you have this, it’s a phase of precancer. If you can limit sun exposure, you can reduce your chances of getting this type of cancer.”
AgriSafe is a national nonprofit that works to reduce skin cancer cases in farmers as well as respiratory disease, musculoskeletal disorders, hearing loss, depression, disabling injuries, and occupational illnesses.
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“The main recommendation for the general public is to seek shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.,” explains Sheridan about ways to reduce skin cancer. “Obviously this doesn’t work for farmers, so we look for other ways they can protect themselves, including sun-protectant clothing, sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses. This is especially important for farmers who have or may have actinic keratosis.”
If you head out to work each day in a pair of jeans and a white T-shirt, the good news is your jeans provide outstanding protection from the sun.
“Jeans have an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating of 1,700, so no sun is getting through your blue jeans,” Sheridan says. “However, a white T-shirt only has a protection factor of 5.” A UPF of 5 equates to about one fifth of the sun’s UV rays reaching your skin.
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You should find clothing with a UPF label of 30 and up, recommends Sheridan. “The higher the rating, the better,” she says. “A 30 is acceptable, but higher ratings can provide even better protection based on the ingredients.”
The clothing industry is making it easier to find sun-protectant clothing by providing more of it and labeling it clearly. Dickies, Duluth Trading Company, and Gempler’s, among others, offer several shirts with UPF 30 to 50 and moisture-wicking technology, making them ideal choices for summer work.
SPF 30 Sunscreen
While the UPF rating on clothing matters, the sun protection factor (SPF) rating on sunscreen is more complicated.
For example, SPF 15 filters out 93% of all incoming UVB rays, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. SPF 30 keeps out 97%, and SPF 50 keeps out 98%.
“If you use SPF 50 and reapply every two hours, you are only getting one percentage point more of protection than if you were using SPF 30,” explains Sheridan. “That’s where there is some controversy on whether or not SPF 50 is worth the extra cost for the amount of protection provided.”
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends at least SPF 15. For those who are outdoors for longer periods of time, SPF 30 should be used. That’s why Sheridan recommends at least SPF 30 for farmers.
After you look at the SPF rating, make sure the sunscreen you select is a broad spectrum so you’ll be protected from both UVA and UVB rays.
Remember that sunscreen isn’t just for the summertime. You should wear sunscreen in the winter, too. You should also wear it when you’re in a vehicle. That’s because the light that shines through can still cause damage, says Sheridan.
The beloved baseball hats that farmers own are not, unfortunately, the best choice to protect against the sun.
“To protect the nose and ears, you should have a hat with at least a 3-inch brim,” says Sheridan.
There are hats with ventilation at the top, which will make them cooler in the summer. While this is a good option if you still have a full head of hair, Sheridan warns against these if you have thinning hair. “If you are balding and don’t have a close-weave fabric, some of the sun will get through the hat,” she says.
If you refuse to give up your baseball hat or you want a hat with ventilation, make sure you double up and wear sunscreen in addition to your hat.
The sun’s powerful rays don’t just affect your skin. They can also cause serious damage to your eyes, which can lead to vision loss, cataracts, and macular degeneration as well as eye and eyelid cancers.
The easiest way to protect your eyes is to wear sunglasses that block out 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB light. Ideally, sunglasses should also block HEV (high-energy visible) light.
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends wraparound-style sunglasses that shield your eyes and the surrounding areas.
Safety, including sun protection, should be a priority on every farm. To make it easier to follow the recommended practices, Sheridan suggests creating a safety kit to keep in every vehicle. This can include sunscreen, safety glasses, sunglasses, a hat, and other items.
“Being prepared ahead of time can make a big difference,” she says.