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Don't let the sun catch you frying - (7/3/2018)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro 

The moment Tom walked into the pharmacy, the first thing that jumped into the pharmacist’s mind was “Cape Cod.” Baked red lobsters on Cape Cod. Delicious for the pharmacist, but not so good for Tom. “How did you get so sunburned, Tom?” asked the pharmacist. “We went to the beach 2 days ago,” said Tom. “Man, I am in pain! I used to be able to sit in the sun all day, but I guess I am too old for that now.”

The problem is not Tom’s age. The problem is Tom’s planet. A day at the beach is much more dangerous now than it was just a year ago. According to NASA, global temperatures have increased by more than 1.5°F (0.9°C) since 1880. While that does not sound environmentally crippling, it is doing damage. Almost every year in the 20th and 21st centuries, climate change is raising the Earth’s temperature and is leading to the depletion of the ozone layer, making humans more vulnerable to ultraviolet (UV) radiation and causing an increase in severe sunburns. 

The more sunburns that one gets, the greater the risk of that person developing skin cancer. According to the National Institutes of Health, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US. The two most common types are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma – the names come from the type of cells in which the cancer begins. They usually form on the head, face, neck, hands, and arms. Another type of skin cancer, melanoma, is less common than the others, but far more dangerous — even deadly. It involves the cells that produce the skin pigment melanin, which is responsible for skin and hair color. Melanoma can spread very rapidly, and the incidence of melanoma in the US is steadily increasing. It is the leading cause of death from skin disease. The development of melanoma is related to sun exposure, particularly to sunburns during childhood. It is most common among people with fair skin, blue or green eyes, and red or blond hair. Tom happens to be blond and blue-eyed. He worked outdoors as a teenager and was frequently sunburned. Tom should not take his sunburn lightly!

The most important thing to do after receiving a sunburn, apart from getting out of the sun, is to hydrate: your body requires fluids to help it heal and build healthy new tissue. Drinking water will also reverse the nausea and light-headedness that is often experienced after a particularly bad burn or too much UV exposure. Secondly, it is essential to treat the burn topically to protect the skin and promote healing. Avoid products that contain alcohol as they can cause dryness and additional damage and can prolong healing time. The Skin Cancer Foundation cautions against the use of petroleum and oil-based products as they can trap the heat within the skin, making the burn worse. A soothing moisturizing lotion with medicinal properties, such as aloe vera, is the best sunburn treatment as it soothes the burn and promotes healing and new tissue generation at the same time. Preventing a sunburn in the first place is ideal, but may become less feasible as we are exposed to more UV rays due to climate change.

The Paris Agreement is a pact among members of the United Nations that is dedicated to reversing or slowing the effects of climate change. If the US pulls out of this agreement before it goes into effect in 2020, global warming will be allowed to progress and will amplify its devastation of life on Earth. 

Meanwhile, Tom’s future beach days will be under an umbrella. “No tan is worth this pain or the risk of cancer,” he lamented. 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.com. Read more at www.rx-press.com  

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