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Protect yourself from too much sun

Experts urge the use of a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15

Experts urge the use of a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15

The sun can cause eye damage, premature aging of the skin, and can lead to skin cancer. Health officials are driving home the message that overexposure to the sun is dangerous, and it is important for boaters in particular to pay attention.

Ultraviolet rays penetrate and injure the skin’s inner layer, prompting it to produce more melanin, a chemical that gives skin its color. A tan was once considered a healthy benefit to outdoor activity, but experts say there is no such thing as a healthy tan. Every time a person tans, he or she increases the risk for sun-related skin problems, including the deadly form of skin cancer melanoma. Sunburns are even more detrimental.

Lauren and Bob Manning — Pennsylvania residents who summer in Avalon on the New Jersey shore — both have had problems with skin cancer. They are members of the Avalon Yacht Club, and Bob, one of the club’s trustees, is head of the youth sailing program. A few years ago a dermatologist found basal cell carcinoma on Lauren. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, affecting 800,000 Americans each year. And during a routine checkup for Bob, the doctor found a suspicious mole that turned out to be melanoma in its early stages.

“It’s an epidemic, and it’s all around us,” says Lauren Manning.

Fortunately, the Mannings caught their cancers early. However, they remain vigilant. They have frequent checkups with the dermatologist and insist their four children, who take sailing lessons in the summer, take precautions against the sun’s harmful rays.

This year the Mannings are organizing a road race to raise skin cancer awareness. Sponsored by the Avalon Yacht Club, Run From the Sun will take place July 25. Proceeds benefit the Skin Cancer Foundation, a non-profit organization in New York City. (Information is available at or by e-mail to

Manning says it makes sense for the yacht club to sponsor the event since so many of its members spend summer days in the sun, either sailing or lounging by the pool.

While cancer rates overall are on the decline in the United States, the prevalence of skin cancer is on the rise, with 1 million new cases diagnosed each year, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

“Often skin cancer is downplayed as having modest consequences or significance,” says James Spencer, vice chairman of the Department of Dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and co-chairman of the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention. “However, the fact remains that skin cancer is the most widely diagnosed cancer in the United States. The physical, financial and emotional effects of this disease should not be understated. We cannot continue to ignore the effects of skin cancer.”

Spencer says treatment costs approach $1 billion a year, and public education efforts and research funding are disproportionately low. “Only 1 to 2 percent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s cancer-control budget goes toward skin cancer prevention,” he says.

Both basal cell carcinoma — which occurs in 4 percent of skin cancer cases overall — and squamous cell carcinoma have a better than 95 percent cure rate if detected and treated early. Still, the American Academy of Dermatology estimates 7,910 people will die from melanoma this year.

Experts recommend avoiding sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., but that obviously isn’t practical for most boaters. Bimini tops, T-tops and the like can shield the rays coming down from above, but they cannot block rays that bounce off the water or the boat’s deck, especially light-colored decks. Health experts urge the use of sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, and both UVA and UVB protection.

Big, floppy hats help shade the face, neck and ears, and long-sleeved shirts and pants protect the arms and legs. Experts recommend dark colors since UV rays can penetrate most light clothing. UV-protective clothing is becoming more readily available, and there are even laundry products that claim to boost clothing’s ability to block UV rays.

UV rays also can lead to such eye problems as photokeratitis (a painful but temporary corneal burn also known as snowblindness), abnormal growths in and around the eye, and cataracts. There also is evidence that sun exposure can lead to macular degeneration, a debilitating condition in which the macula, a small spot in the center of the eye, becomes damaged. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness. Experts recommend protecting eyes with wraparound sunglasses that block UV rays.