sunscreen

"That Healthy Glow"

By Becky Bronstein (Student Intern Region 3 Summer 2012)

With my fair skin and red hair I always knew I had to be careful when it came to sun exposure. I was especially aware of my risk after a trip to my dermatologist when I was proclaimed the “moley-est” of my family. When I went to the beach as a kid I was forced to wear baggy t-shirts to protect my sensitive back and shoulders as well as wear a wide brim hat to shield me from UV rays; not to mention a healthy slathering of the kind of sunscreen that refused to rub in, leaving me even more white and pasty.

As a senior in high school I thought I had it all. I was captain of two varsity sports, class president, and involved in a slew of extracurricular activities. I had a wonderful group of friends, a supportive family, and a recent acceptance into the college of my choice. However, in the spring of 2011 when I visited my dermatologist for a routine mole check I was told I needed to surgically remove an “interesting” looking mole from my right shoulder immediately. Even though I was well aware that my mom had recently had a malignant mole on her forearm, I never thought some “interesting” mole could amount to anything. Shortly thereafter I had the mole removed. I was playing softball the very next day.

When the test results came back I learned that the mole was pre-cancerous. Where did I go wrong? Sure my fair skin and maybe genetics put me at an increased risk, but I thought I took all of the precautions. Oh wait, could it have been those long weekends in the sun playing softball? Could it have been that time I didn’t reapply sunscreen after hours at the beach? Surely those sunburns I could count on one hand couldn’t have brought me to the brink of cancer. What if I had not gone to the dermatologist or waited just a few more months for my check up?

I am 18 years young and I will have a wormy looking scar on my right shoulder for the rest of my life. At first I was scared of what that scar represented. It was a reminder that I could have had cancer. Now, however, the scar is a part of me and it serves instead as a reminder of the precautions I must take.

Cancer doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t care if you are only 17, if your family has already had enough of it or even if you’ve tried to avoid it. Cancer can affect anyone. By no means will I stay indoors during the hours of 10 am to 4 pm or panic at the appearance of a new freckle, but I will continue to wear protective clothing and seek shade when I can. I can do without that “healthy” glow. I’ll stick with my pasty white sunscreen.

About the author: Rebecca Bronstein completed a volunteer internship this summer in the Air Protection Division at EPA Region 3 where her work focused on climate change, promoting renewable energy and educating students. Becky is a rising sophomore at the University of Delaware, where she is majoring in Environmental Science as a member of the Honors Program and the Dean’s List.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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How Green Is Your Picnic?

By Kimberly Williams

Eating is one of my favorite activities. I’m a firm believer that food is exceptionally effective in building relationships, easing troubles, and celebrating triumphs. I also think that food can be one of the best areas for embracing green ideas. There are many ways to make feasting more friendly to the environment, particularly during the summer months. My favorite way to enjoy sunshine, nature, and a tasty snack is with a fun outdoor picnic.

I like to get out to Great Falls Park in Virginia because the view of the Potomac River is simply stunning. I enjoy lounging on a blanket in the sun, within close range of my picnic basket. Now is a great time to enjoy your picnic in a park because July is National Parks Month. The National Recreation and Park Service has lots of cool ideas for getting outdoors and enjoying parks.

When I pack my picnic basket, I keep a few rules in mind. Limiting the amount of disposable items that I bring to reduce my waste is a priority. (Also, that makes clean up a breeze.) This means cloth napkins, reusable dishes and cutlery, and washable food storage containers instead of Styrofoam. If you can’t avoid using paper or plastic products, make sure you recycle what you can. EPA’s Recycle on the Go initiative provides information about recycling in public places like parks.

For the bright summer sun it’s also important to remember to throw in your basket some sunscreen, a hat, and shades.  A few painful experiences with sunburn have taught me to be more careful about always using a  sunscreen with a high enough SPF.  I recently downloaded onto my Smartphone this neat app for checking the UV Index.  It’s an easy way to help me remember to keep my fair skin protected whenever I go.

Although all this stuff about picnics is important, let’s be honest—it’s really all about the food. I’m often shopping at my local farmer’s market for fresh produce that helps reduce my carbon footprint.  You can learn more about locally grown foods in your area, or even grow your own vegetables and herbs in an environmentally friendly garden. Then you’ll be able to fill your picnic basket with all kinds of yummy foods that make for a delicious meal, a fun afternoon, and a healthier environment.

About the author: Kimberly Williams is a summer intern in the Office of Public Engagement. She attends Lehigh University where she is double majoring in Political Science and Environmental Studies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Enjoying Outdoor Activities Safely

By Lina Younes

As many families across the United States and Puerto Rico are getting ready for the unofficial kickoff of summer activities, there are some things to keep in mind to stay safe and healthy.

First of all, whether you are going to the beach, going camping, engaging in sports, gardening, or simply walking outside, remember to protect yourself from the sun and its powerful ultraviolet rays! Even on cloudy days, those powerful UV rays can harm you. So, what should you do before enjoying the outdoors this weekend or any day of the year? First check your UV ray index.  Two, put on sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Remember to reapply it every two hours and even more frequently if you have been in the water. Also, you should wear a hat, protective clothing, and sunglasses.

If you are prone to allergies or you have asthma, it is a good idea to check the air quality index in your community. If there is a higher level of air pollutants in your area at a certain time or you belong to one of the sensitive groups, try to limit your outdoor activities until the AQI improves

Are you planning a trip to the beach? Check out our new interactive tool to monitor the water quality at beaches called BEACON 2.0. You will find updated information on local beaches for the lower 48 states, Alaska, Hawaii, the US territories and tribes.

While you’re engaging in outdoor activities, there is another thing to keep in mind. What do you do to prevent insect bites? Well, apply insect repellents to your exposed skin and clothing as indicated on the product label. Don’t apply this product to eyes or mouth. Don’t let children handle the repellents either. You should apply it for them.

And after having fun under the sun, remember to reduce waste and whenever possible recycle.

So do you have any big plans for this Memorial Day weekend? Planning any green activities? We would love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes is the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. Among her duties, she’s responsible for outreach to Hispanic organizations and media. She spearheaded the team that recently launched EPA’s new Spanish website, www.epa.gov/espanol . She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. She’s currently the editor of EPA’s new Spanish blog, Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente. Prior to joining the agency, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and an international radio broadcaster. She has held other positions in and out of the Federal Government.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Hot Times, Summer in the City – Be Sun Smart

A man bathes in the sun in Washington Square Park. (EPA Photo/Kasia Broussalian)

By Bonnie Bellow

The warm weather and the official approach of summer have pulled New Yorkers out of their apartments and into the streets. Everywhere you look, people are soaking up the sun – stretched out on park lawns, grabbing lunch on city benches, perched on stoops or just walking. The sun brings warmth and feelings of well being, but it can also bring skin cancer. How many of the millions of people out and about in New York every day think to apply sunscreen or grab a hat before going out? City dwellers need to be aware that just taking precautions when they go to the beach is not enough to prevent what can be a deadly disease. Eighty percent of the sun’s UV rays can pass through light clouds, mist and fog, and snow can reflect more than 80 percent of the sun’s damaging ultraviolet radiation. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and, according to the Centers for Disease Control, is on the rise among young adults. Everyone needs to be concerned about skin cancer and act to prevent it, no matter who they are or where they live.

I first learned about skin cancer in my 20’s, when to my surprise, an irritation on my forehead turned out to be a basal cell skin cancer. Light skinned and freckled, I roasted as a small child on Long Island beaches and spent my teen years cultivating a lovely tan by smearing myself with baby oil and using a reflector to increase the glow. I paid the price. Luckily for me, the skin cancers that have appeared on my face and chest periodically throughout my adult life have been non-invasive. But, they caused discomfort, anxiety and scars and cost thousands over the years in medical bills. And all that sun increased my risk of developing the more serious type of skin cancer, melanoma.

The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention has designated the Friday before Memorial Day weekend as Don’t Fry Day to remind everyone to protect their skin while enjoying the outdoors. Check out their website and learn about SunWise, the EPA program that teaches children and their caregivers about how to protect against overexposure to the sun.

I still enjoy the sun, but I take a few minutes each morning, winter and summer, to apply cream containing sunscreen to my face and slather some sunscreen on my hands and arms if they will be exposed. I wear sunglasses and add a hat when I am going to be outdoors for a stretch or at the beach. We all need the sun for our emotional and physical health, but we need to wear it well!

About the author: Bonnie Bellow has been the Region 2 Director of Public Affairs since 1995, responsible for intergovernmental, media and international relations; community engagement; environmental education; Freedom of Information Act requests; social media and public information. She previously served as Public Affairs Director at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, ran her own media production business and worked as a radio reporter. Bonnie received her Bachelor of Science degree at Northwestern University in Chicago, but is a born and bred New Yorker who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Sunny Slopes – Ski Safely!

By Julie Kunrath

Pausing at the top of the ski slope, you look down to take in the magnificent view—a scattering of white-dusted trees, rocky peaks glowing on the horizon, powdery snow begging for fresh tracks…

…and high levels of ultraviolet radiation reflecting back at you.

Where’s your sunscreen?

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun isn’t just a summer concern. Sunburns happen year-round, and sun protection is especially important for winter sports, since UV radiation reflects off snow. Because of this reflection, UV intensity can be deceptively high, even in the shade. In addition, UV radiation increases with altitude because there is less chance for the atmosphere to absorb the sun’s rays. Skiing at 8,000 feet certainly offers epic views, but it also exposes you to the invisible danger of UV radiation.

As an avid skier, my father put my siblings and me on skis at an early age. Following many of my childhood skiing adventures, I remember the infamous “goggle tan”—a distinct white mask surrounded by red skin. Back then, I was just embarrassed to have a “raccoon face.” Today I understand this was a sign of overexposure to UV radiation. This was a sunburn, an indication of damaged skin and a risk factor for future skin cancer.

As the most common cancer in the U.S., skin cancer is no light matter. Every hour, one American dies from skin cancer. The good news is that skin cancer is preventable with simple sun safety strategies, like sunscreen. As a tough man of the mountains, my dad never wore sunscreen when he skied, so neither did I. I didn’t wise up until a few years ago when my older brother handed me a sunscreen bottle while gearing up for a ski day. Sometimes older brothers know best.

My advice for all snow worshippers: keep a small bottle of sunscreen in the pocket of your winter jacket. Make sure it’s broad spectrum with SPF 30 or higher. pic of UV Widget Slather it on your exposed skin before you hit the slopes and every two hours thereafter. Lift rides or hot chocolate breaks in the lodge are good times to reapply. Your eyes are just as sensitive to sun damage as your skin; protect them with sunglasses or ski goggles that have 99–100% UVA/UVB protection. You can also check the UV Index for a forecast of the day’s UV intensity. Who wants a raccoon face anyway?

About the author: Julie Kunrath is an ASPH Fellow hosted by the SunWise program in the Office of Air and Radiation in DC.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.