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Be Wise About Your Sun Time

Be Wise About Your Sun Time

Peak sun season is just around the corner, which means it is a good time to brush up on how to take care of our skin and remind ourselves of the best ways to prevent long-term damage from the sun.

Overexposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun can lead to melanoma, the most common skin cancer in the United States. About 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. An estimated one in five will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.

About nine out of 10 cases of melanoma could be prevented by staying safe in the sun and by avoiding sunburn, which increases the risk of skin cancer.

Community members will soon have the opportunity to view an online Health & Wellness seminar presented by Dr. Sunil Dhawan, a local dermatologist and member of the Washington Hospital medical staff. “Sun: Beauty or Beast,” will be available Friday, April 5, at 2 p.m. on Washington Hospital’s Facebook page,, and also its YouTube page,

Dr. Dhawan said the message of lowering your chances of developing skin cancer is becoming increasingly well received. He noted that the sun-related problems many people have experienced in the last three decades have increased awareness.

“I think people are finally understanding the importance of sun protection,” he explained. “We often repeat the same information on what to do and the public is sometimes so preoccupied with news of the world they might not hear it. But the basics remain the same.

“The tanning you get from routine exposure, like taking a walk, gardening or biking, usually that’s fine. The danger from the sun for most people is what you did 30, 40, or 50 years ago and it is relentless. The assault on your skin started when you were 2 to 4 years old.”

Melanoma rates have been rapidly rising over the last 30 years, but trends vary with age. Skin cancer incidents increase around age 20-24 and more steeply in men from around 55-59. The highest rates are in the 85-89 age group for both men and women.

“The earlier you protect, the more you protect,” said Dr. Dhawan, who will offer tips on how to avoid sunburn and its harmful effects on the skin.

Sunscreens that contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide at minimum SPF 30 and with UVB and UBA protection are best. Apply the sunscreen about 20 minutes before going outside and it should be applied again about two hours later. For water-resistant sunscreens, reapply after an hour in the water.

Clothing also can reduce the chance of sunburn. Wear hats with wide brims, wear long sleeves and long pants. It is also worth remembering that UV radiation is reflected by sand, water, snow and ice and can go through windshields and windows. Skin damage from UV rays can happen on cloudy and cool days, not only when it is hot and sunny.

People who are at the greatest risk of developing melanoma are those with fair or freckled skin, light-colored eyes and blond or red hair.

Dr. Dhawan said that understanding the basics of protecting against sunburn and possible harmful effects is not complicated if it becomes part of the routine. He finds that repeating the message is extremely helpful.

“What we aim for is the repetition to get into your head,” he explained. “Be consistent. Get the right clothing; use the right sunscreen; and get your body checked once a year for warning signs in areas you cannot see.”

For more details on this and other Health & Wellness seminars offered by Washington Hospital, see or call 800.963.7070. Past seminars can also be viewed on the Washington Hospital YouTube channel,