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Slather on the sunscreen this summer
Health officials urge sunbathers to guard against overexposure
Lifeguard Andy Mai keeps his eyes on swimmers Friday at the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center in Gainesville. Lifeguards at the center are required to reapply their sunscreen every two hours. - photo by Tom Reed

Stay safe in the sun

  • Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF value of 15 or higher.
  • Limit your time in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun's rays are strongest.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, sunglasses and broad-brimmed hats when possible.
  • Use a water-resistant sunscreen if swimming or sweating.
  • Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours.

Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration


Summer has arrived in Northeast Georgia, and with it comes plenty of blue skies, sunny days and an increased risk of skin cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, skin cancer is the most common form of the disease in the U.S.

"In 2008 in Georgia, we had 209 deaths attributed to skin cancer," said Dave Palmer, public information officer for Georgia Division of Public Health District 2. "Hall County had seven deaths, and in our 13-district area, we had 18 deaths."

Though skin cancer can arise from a variety of sources, Palmer said the most prevalent cause is damage from the sun.

It's a cause Cleveland resident Wendy Rumford knows all too well.

"My dad has skin cancer. He's been having them removed since he was 40 and now he's 83," Rumford said. "He was raised in Arkansas and worked on a farm when he was young. His doctor said he probably got most of his skin cancer before he was 19."

She's taking no chances when it comes to her son, 7-year-old Wyatt, a rising second-grader at Mossy Creek Elementary School.

The two arrived Friday morning at Frances Meadows Aquatic Center in Gainesville, where Wyatt was slathered with SPF 50 sunscreen before he got into the pool.

"I do it for him because he's so fair-skinned because of his red hair," Rumford said. "Every couple of hours, I get him to come out and put more on."

Lifeguards at Frances Meadows are well aware of taking precautions under the sun. They are required to reapply sunscreen every two hours.

"With most sunscreen, you have to put it on every two hours because your perspiration and water make it run off," said Andi Harmon, recreation division manager at the center.

"A lot of people have that misconception that, ‘I'm sitting in the shade, I don't need sunscreen.' But the sun reflects off the water and the concrete and you can still sweat it off."

In one of its new sunscreen labeling regulations to take effect in 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says sunscreen products can no longer advertise themselves as "waterproof" or "sweatproof" for just the reasons Harmon described.

Instead, the sunscreens can be labeled as "water resistant."

Harmon said the facility keeps sunscreen on hand at all times for people to use.

"If we see you starting to get burned, we'll go and say, ‘Hey, you're getting a little bit too red,'" she said.

Sunscreen is intended to reduce peoples' exposure to UVA and UVB rays.

"UVA rays are the most common. It's the strongest at the earth's surface," Palmer said. "They go below the top layer of human skin and can damage the connective tissue."

UVB rays, on the other hand, are mostly absorbed by the earth's atmosphere, but Palmer said it's still important to be protected against them as they lead to sunburn.

The distinction between the two types of rays will be a part of the FDA's new label requirements.

"Prior rules on sunscreens dealt almost exclusively against sunburn ... and did not address ultraviolet A radiation, which contributes to skin cancer and early skin aging," according to the FDA website.

A new test will determine whether sunscreens can be labeled as broad spectrum, meaning they cover both UVA and UVB rays.

Broad spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher will be the only types that can advertise as being able to protect against skin cancer.

"I think people understand the risk more. I see fewer and fewer teenagers out here just baking," Harmon said. "My daughter knows you don't go anywhere without sunscreen."