FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. -- As another heat wave settles in across Fairfield County, the Connecticut Department of Public Health is reminding residents to protect their skin from the sun’s ultraviolet rays and to use sunscreen correctly.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and the most common cancer among 20- to 30-year-olds, according to federal health officials. One American dies every hour from melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
In Connecticut, 930 cases of malignant melanoma were diagnosed in 2009, with 100 deaths from the disease, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Melanoma rates continue to rise, especially among adolescent girls. The state had the 17th highest melanoma death rate nationally from 2001-05—7.4 percent higher than the U.S. average.
The rate of new melanoma diagnoses—responsible for 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths—was 31 percent higher in Connecticut than the national average from 2001-05 and was the eighth highest in the United States. An estimated 1,060 state residents were diagnosed with melanoma in 2008.
According to the EPA, the number of cases of sunburns is on the rise in Connecticut. A 2004 survey found that 43.1 percent of white adults in Connecticut had at least one sunburn in the past year—an increase from 33.3 percent in 1999. Sunburns are a significant risk factor for the development of skin cancer.
Residents should protect their skin to help reduce rates of skin cancer from overexposure to the sun’s UV rays by using sunscreen. The public health department offered these tips for playing it safe in the sun:
- Avoid too much sun: Wear protective clothing (shirt, hat, pants, sunglasses) when in the sun; seek shade as much as possible; avoid mid-day sun.
- Apply sunscreen to exposed skin: Apply 15 minutes before sun exposure; apply a generous coat and reapply every two hours or more often if getting wet or sweating heavily.
- Choose sunscreen wisely: Check the label and choose a sunscreen that offers broad spectrum (UV-A & UV-B) protection. Make sure it is rated as SPF 15 or higher. But products with SPF ratings over 50 do not provide significantly more protection. SPF numbers only indicate protection against UV-B radiation. It should contain zinc oxide as the active ingredient or as a blend with titanium dioxide. These mineral blockers are preferable to chemical absorbers. Avoid products with oxybenzone which has endocrine-disrupting activity. Be sure it is water resistant.