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.

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