Summer Safety in the Sunshine State: Protect the skin you're in

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Joe McFadden
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
As summer in the Sunshine State continues, many Air Commandos and their families may be planning an enjoyable afternoon swimming, boating or catching some rays along the Emerald Coast.

However fun and relaxing these all may sound, there's still no vacation from protecting yourself against ultraviolet radiation.

In fact, sunshine is stronger in Florida than most states because sun rays arrive here at a steeper angle resulting in a higher degree of UV radiation, thus leaving your skin, the largest organ in your body, most at-risk for damage and even developing cancer.

1st Lt. Theresa Gray, 1st Special Operations Medical Operations Squadron physician assistant, said that continuous exposure to radiation, like sunlight, can mutate cells.

When a person's body and immune system can no longer fight it, the mutation can become a melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer and leading cause of death from skin disease.

"Imagine everyone is born with a cup, and you start filling it with sun exposure," Lieutenant Gray said. "As you get older, your cup fills up and eventually, anything that spills over ends up as cancer. And once you get a skin cancer, you're susceptible to more because it's as if your skin is saying 'I'm done.'"

Although Lieutenant Gray said you can't reduce the amount that's already in your "cup," she said you can take vital preventive steps to lessening the quantity of radiation that goes in it.

"There is no cure for melanoma, only early prevention," she said. "Limit your time in the sun and make sure you wear sunscreen all the time on your face and hands. Even if you're going out to the mailbox, it's still 10 minutes of exposure to the sun."

Lieutenant Gray said lotions with a Sun Protection Factor of 15 are good for daily use such as going in and out of the house, walking between buildings, and even while driving under the hot Florida sun.

"If you're out for extended periods of time, use at least a 30 SPF sunscreen," she said. "And if you're out for more than eight hours, the first application of sunscreen in the morning does not mean you're set for the day. Reapply sunscreen every two to three hours, but more than that especially if you're swimming or sweating."

Most people get 80 percent of their total UV exposure before age 18, so Lieutenant Gray urges caution for parents of young children, especially infants, before taking them out in the sun.

"It is not recommended that children under the age of six months be exposed to the sun," she said. "Their skin is very delicate and absorbs a lot of sun, so they shouldn't be wearing sunscreen or be exposed to sunlight. It's just very potent to them."

Getting a tan can also be a factor that draws many people to the beach during the summer, too. Lieutenant Gray recommends that everyone should use some form of sun protection to avoid further damage to their skin.

"Everyone likes a decent tan, and if you're doing it with sunscreen it's safer than with tanning oil," Lieutenant Gray said. "But if you're not wearing protection at all and frying out there, you're getting sunburned and increasing the damage done to your skin."

Along with prevention and education, the lieutenant emphasized how early detection against any abnormal growth can not only save your summer but ultimately your life.

"If things pop up and just won't go away, please see your doctor," she said. "If you see anything that is changing or drawing attention, have your doctor take a look, especially any part that's exposed to the sun like the arms or face."

So perhaps the most important thing people bring with them to the Emerald Coast is not a beach ball or cooler, but a tube of sunscreen.

For more information about protecting your skin from UV radiation, contact your doctor or visit the American Academy of Dermatology website at