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February 18,  2002

American Academy of Dermatology: Think the Sun Is Less Dangerous in Winter Than in Summer? Think Again!

Athletes and Spectators at Outdoor Olympic Events Need to Practice Sun Safety

(SafetyAlerts) - If you're a spectator at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and think you have nothing in common with the athletes in the Games, you are wrong. Athletes, spectators and anyone outside during the winter, risk overexposure to the sun, because most people assume the winter sun is weaker and less dangerous than the summer sun and therefore do not wear proper sun protection. However, two recent studies show that if you're at a higher altitude, for example, in Salt Lake City, and especially watching the skiing events, your risk of developing a sunburn is greater.

"People know that the sun's rays are dangerous, but that does not always translate into recognizable protective actions," stated dermatologist Darrell S. Rigel, MD, Clinical Professor, New York University Medical Center. "These two studies are relevant for both athletes and spectators at the Olympics. Even if you're just walking around the Olympic Village, it's important to remember that snow reflects more than 80 percent of the sun's rays, even on cloudy days. That's why everyone should wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher and reapply it every two hours."

The first research study used a hand-held meter to measure UV light energy in three locations: Vail, Colorado; Orlando, Florida; and New York, New York. The readings were taken at solar noon in direct sunlight on cloudless days.

It was found that direct ultraviolet-B (UV-B) levels at 8,500 feet in Vail, Colorado, were approximately 60 percent higher than at sea level in New York, and the direct UV-B levels in Vail were the same as those in Orlando, a site nearly 775 miles closer to the equator.

Ultraviolet-B, and ultraviolet-A (UVA), the sun's other invisible, damaging ray, can cause suntan, sunburn, and sun damage. This exposure to ultraviolet light, especially UV-B, is one of the key factors in the development of skin cancer. An estimated 1 million new cases of skin cancer will occur in the United States this year, and, 9,600 people will die of the disease.

These results suggest that a person with an average complexion, who is not wearing any sun protection, would burn after only six minutes of sun exposure on a clear day at noon in Vail at 11,000 feet above sea level. The same person would develop sunburn after 25 minutes of noontime exposure in New York or 14 minutes of unprotected noontime exposure in Orlando.

"It's important for individuals living or visiting high altitude regions in the U.S. to recognize the increase in UV exposure and take extra precautions to prevent sunburn," said Dr. Rigel.

Another study followed 105 skiers in Vail, Colorado over a one-week period in January of 2001. Each participant was given an unmarked bottle of sunscreen (either SPF 15 or 30) and instructed to maintain a log of the amount of time they spent outdoors as well as the amount of sunscreen applied.

The purpose of this study was to determine the factors that influence how effective sunscreens were in protecting from sunburn in an intense ultraviolet environment. After analyzing factors associated with burning, the study concluded sunscreen, when used correctly, was an effective defense from sunburn when in an open aired, highly elevated, sun exposed and sun reflective environment. The data further revealed that of those who re-applied sunscreen every 2.5 hours or more frequently were five times less likely to sunburn compared to those who applied sunscreen every two hours or more.

"Skiers and those watching any outdoor Olympic event, will receive more than three times the UV exposure necessary for sunburn," said Dr. Rigel. "The use of sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher with frequent re-applications appears to be one of the most effective and effortless methods of sunburn protection. Although this study surveyed those who enjoyed winter sports, the findings should be applied to those participating in or watching any outdoor sports."

Both studies reinforce the AAD's recommendations for effective sunscreen use:

-- Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.
-- Use sunscreens every day if you are going to be in the sun for more than 20 minutes.
-- Apply sunscreens to dry skin 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors.
-- When applying sunscreen, pay particular attention to the face, ears, hands and arms, and generously coat the skin that is not covered by clothing.
-- Reapply sunscreens every two hours or immediately after swimming or strenuous activity.

In addition to wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, a comprehensive sun protection program includes avoiding deliberate tanning with indoor or outdoor light, seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and limiting exposure during peak hours.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. It is estimated that 87,900 people in the United States will be diagnosed with invasive and non-invasive melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, in 2002. This is a 4 percent increase for invasive melanoma from 2001. In addition, approximately 7,400 deaths will be attributed to melanoma in 2002.

The American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of over 14,000 dermatologists worldwide, the Academy is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical, and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin. For more information, contact the AAD at 1-888-462-DERM or .

Data source: American Academy of Dermatology
Source: PR Newswire

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