Short term burn, long term disease means not-so-fashionable tan

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Erica Stewart
  • 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
During the summer, Airmen and their families spend more time in the outdoors while participating in activities, but the sun can burn or even worse.

Prolonged exposure to the sun can cause detrimental effects, damage to skin's surface and inner structure after prolonged exposure to harmful Ultraviolet-A or B rays, causing premature aging, vision damage or even skin cancer.

This doesn't mean that Airmen and their families should hibernate or wear parkas in the summer months; it just means that they should take a few precautions against those potentially dangerous rays.

Foggy days=Harmful rays
On a typical day at Vandenberg, one may be gazing out their office window, at any time of day and into dense fog called the 'marine layer'.

But a common mistake is to pass on sunscreen on overcast days.

"My main concern is that since it's foggy, my patients will think that they don't need to protect their skin from the sun," said Capt. Eric Baker, a 30th Medical Group flight surgeon. "Wether or not the sun is out, Ultraviolet rays still do damage to your skin."

Ultraviolet-A and Ultraviolet-B rays are harmful to skin, damaging its surface and inner structure after prolonged sun exposure. However, UVB and UVA act differently upon our skin and do not equally damage it.

The UVB rays are mostly responsible for most cases of sunburn, as they are shorter than UVA rays and only reach the surface of the skin that is made up of the epidermis layer, according to an article by

"The UVA damage is deeper, as the UVA rays are longer than the UVB ones and reach the inner strata of the skin, the dermis," Captain Baker said. "These rays are responsible for causing the skin to lose its elasticity and wrinkling, leading to premature aging of the skin. They also can burn the skin, but at a deeper level."

Both UVA and UVB lead to premature ageing, vision damage and even skin cancer, whether malignant or benign.

In the malignant form cancer a tumor appears as a consequence of abnormal proliferating skin cells. The uncontrollable growth of these cells leads to melanoma tumor, which in most of the cases is lethal.

Come fall, summer or spring: make it routine
Just as someone wouldn't leave their home to start their workday without putting on clothing, they should also make it a part of their daily routine to apply sunscreen.

"I always tell my patients to make sunscreen application a part of their daily routine," Captain Baker said. "If it's part of your routine, you are less likely to forget to apply it and therefore reduce your risk of sun damage."

Particularly, protect the face from those leathering UV rays by applying facial moisturizers with sunscreen built-in.

Most over-the-counter facial moisturizers will contain an SPF of 15 or higher, since that is the minimum Sun Protection Factor advisable by the American Melanoma Foundation.

Also, if preparing for a long day in Vandenberg sun, some doctors advise sun-bathers to wear clothing over the bathing suit and a wide-brimmed hats, especially if already sun-burnt.

"A hat will also help to keep you cool and will also help to protect your eyes from glare," Captain Baker said.

Wearing light-colored, loose fitting clothing will help keep you cooler and help prevent sunburn by reflecting the sunlight.

Although clothing may not block sunlight completely, an ordinary t-shirt only blocks the equivalent of sunscreen containing SPF 5.

How sunblock measures up
On top of working sunscreen into a daily hygiene ritual, wearing the right SPF is imperative.

The required SPF depends on the person's coloring and the amount of time that person is in the sun, according to Dana Sullivan, Caremark consumer health interactive, one of the nation's leading pharmacy benefit management companies.

"When using a sunscreen with a SPF 15, you'll get the equivalent of one minute of burning UVB rays for every 15 minutes you spend in the sun," she said. "If you're an olive-skinned brunette, that'll buy you about five hours in the sun before you're visibly burned, while the fair and freckled may get only two and a half."

In conjunction with wearing the right sunscreen for the wearer's complexion and lifestyle, one must also apply enough of the stuff to adequately protect themselves from those harmful rays.

"If you don't feel as though you're overdoing it, you probably aren't using enough," Ms. Sullivan said. "You need at least a shot glass-full to cover your entire body."

While slathering on sun protection, smear a coat onto certain high-risk areas like the nose, ears, neck, shoulders, and the tops of the feet. Also, apply a lip balm with sunscreen as well.

"If you're running around in a bathing suit, a spray-on sunscreen may be useful for frequent applications," Ms. Sullivan said. "But you should probably have someone else do your back to be sure it's completely covered and don't wait until you get to the beach to start the process. Your skin needs at least 20 minutes to absorb the sunscreen's chemicals."

Modern research and information advises people to cover-up, wear a pair of cool shades, lather on sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or above and enjoy the remaining critical days of summer.

Other helpful tips:
-Look for clothing designed to block sun, even up to SPF 50, if you spend a lot of time outdoors.
-Wear sunglasses. Choose sunglasses that block UV light and wrap around to block light from the side, too. If you're not sure whether your old sunglasses adequately block UV, ask an optometrist to have them checked. Long term exposure to UV light can lead to cataracts.
- Remember to re-apply! The American Melanoma Foundation suggests that a person apply sunscreen in the morning and reapplied after swimming or perspiring heavily. Remember, waterproof sunscreen begins losing effectiveness after 80 minutes in the water, so reapply sunscreen before this time, especially if you have towel-dried for maximum protection.
For more sun safety tips, go to