As people bask in the warmth of spring and summer days, remembering to protect skin from the sun's ultraviolet rays can keep prolonged fun in the sun from causing sunburns and skin cancer.

Dr. Halden Ford, a dermatologist with Paducah Dermatology, said that sunscreen is just one tool people can use to decrease their risk of developing skin cancers caused by UV rays. Ford recommended wearing protective clothing, such as hats and shirts - possibly with long sleeves when working long hours outdoors - to protect skin.

Ford acknowledged that wearing a wide-brimmed hat - while effective - can be difficult to adjust to, but said he recommends that people with thinning hair at least wear a baseball cap.

"We do see a lot of skin cancers and sun damage on the scalp, and you can tell in a second (whether someone wears a hat in the sun)," Ford said.

The dermatologist said among men he's treated who've lost their hair, those who leave their scalp exposed experience skin cancer and sun damage "tremendously more than the guys who wear a cap. It really does help to protect yourself."

In addition to protecting skin, it is important for people to protect their eyes when out and about. Ford noted that sun exposure increases a person's risk for developing cataracts, and said he always makes sure his glasses are UV protective.

In a recent news release, the Kentucky Optometric Association warned that sun exposure can also cause cancer to eyelids and skin around the eye area and the formation of benign growths on the surface of the eye.

A short-term condition the KOA warned that sun exposure can cause is photokeratitis - also known as snow blindness - which the organization describes as "a temporary but painful sunburn of the eye's surface." Long-term exposure can cause retina damage, the association noted, and long-term exposure specifically to the blue and violet portion of the solar spectrum may be a risk factor for macular degeneration.

The KOA recommends using sunglasses with lenses that block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB radiation and screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light.

When purchasing a sunscreen, Ford recommended people look for a water resistant, broad spectrum product - meaning one that protects against both UVA and UVB rays - with an Sun Protection Factor between 30 and 50.

"Personally, I don't recommend going higher than an SPF 50," Ford said. "You just don't get much more protection going higher. An SPF 50 and 100 are very similar in their protective qualities."

The dermatologist said it's important to apply sunscreen very liberally, and that reapplying it every two hours is critical to avoid sunburn.

"After two hours - if you're in a hot environment and sweating - most of it's gone, so reapplying every couple of hours is important," Ford said.

In addition to protecting against skin cancer, Ford said another reason to wear sunscreen is to protect against signs of aging such as wrinkles and freckling.

"It preserves the youthfulness of your skin... if you wear sunscreen on a regular basis," Ford said.

While UVB rays are damaging to the skin, they also assist skin's production of vitamin D. However, Ford said obtaining vitamin D through sunlight is unnecessary, because people can completely meet their requirements through dietary sources.

The National Institutes of Health list fatty fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel among good dietary sources of vitamin D, as well as fortified foods such as vitamin D fortified milk.

While protecting the body from harmful UV rays is important, Ford said he doesn't think avoiding sun exposure entirely is healthy either.

"My feelings are... that sunlight is good for you in general, but it's just like other things in life. You can get too much of a good thing," Ford said.

Contact Leanne Fuller, a Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8653.

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