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Fit in the OV: Sunburns suck! Be prepared

Photo of Kevin Marts Community Center manager

Glen Frey in the ’80s said it best: “The heat is on!” and for those of us in Southern Arizona, we can definitely feel it. 2017 was record-level hot for Oro Valley, and all indications are that 2018 won’t be any cooler. 

July 4, 2018

Now I don’t have to tell you that one of the best parts of living here are the outdoor opportunities, not to mention the great programs and activities offered by your Oro Valley Parks and Recreation, so I’d like to take a moment and give you a few tips on keeping your skin safe in one of the sunniest regions of the country.

We’ve all had a sunburn. They sting. They sneak up on you. And somehow, they find the one spot you missed when applying sunscreen. I myself learned the hard way playing beach volleyball that the tops of the feet are a terrible place for a burn. Sunburns suck.

The sunburn comes and goes, and we tend not to think much of it after the peeling and heat goes away. So how big of a problem could it be? Here are just some of the statistics related to sunburns and skin cancer:

On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns.

More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined.

Studies show 90 percent of skin aging is due to sun exposure.

One person dies of melanoma (skin cancer) every hour.

So yeah, sunburns are a big deal! What’s crazy is that most people don’t even understand how a sunburn happens, and why sun protection is so important.

What we call a sunburn is actually the body’s response to the sun altering or destroying the DNA of our skin. The sun’s UV rays penetrate into the cells and degrade the DNA proteins causing an inflammatory response. The heat that comes from the area is not from the sun burning anything, but from the concentration of blood during the healing process. The peeling that occurs is literally a “self-destruct” order from the body if the DNA is damaged too much. The skin cells of the affected area are sacrificed as a defensive mechanism against cancer. Your body, without you knowing it, understands that the sun’s rays can cause cancer so the body will kill off large areas of your skin in order to protect itself!

Your body also produces melanin, a chemical that can absorb the harmful UV rays. This melanin is a darker color and darkens the skin. If you don’t produce enough melanin for the “all over” tan, it can be distributed unevenly, and you get freckles. Genetics play a large role in this.

Regardless of your melanin level, you absolutely need to help protect your skin against the sun’s rays. While the body has its own tricks and techniques, Baz Luhrmann back in 1993 absolutely nailed it with his big radio hit, “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen.” While most people understand they probably should wear sunscreen, far too often they opt out. So let’s simplify the process. If you’re going to be outside, wear sunscreen. Yes—even on cloudy days, the UV rays can penetrate your cells and ruin your precious DNA. Make sure you reapply every 90 minutes, and make sure it’s SPF 30 or higher. You don’t even need to purchase the most expensive stuff. Consumer Reports has rated Equate brand (yes the Walmart brand) as one of the top sunscreens on the market. In addition to sunscreen, wide brim hats, shade, and even long sleeves can help protect your skin against cancer.

If you’re thinking this information doesn’t apply to you because you avoid sun exposure in favor of tanning beds, think again. Tanning beds are so dangerous they have been banned in some countries and heavily regulated in others due to the cancerous risks they present. Many states in the U.S. have regulations regarding use for people under 18, and more are thinking of adopting these laws as well.

We’re not saying you shouldn’t go outside this summer. We’re just asking you to please be smart about sun safety. If you protect yourself, then you can get outside and have some fun! And we have some absolutely amazing summer activities here in Oro Valley starting with the July 4th Celebration and Fireworks at Naranja Park, followed by the OV Splash and Dash July 7. Then on July 14, we’ll get the kids all signed up for sports with our popular Put Me in Coach sports registration and hands-on clinics at Riverfront Park. On July 21, it’s the always fun Flag Football Combine at Naranja Park. Finally, on July 29, we’ve got the Round Up at the Ranch 5k Run/Walk at Steam Pump Ranch. Get all the details at orovalleyaz.gov.

So grab your sunscreen and hat, and get out there and enjoy Oro Valley! (Just don’t forget the tops of your feet.)

By Kevin Marts, Oro Valley Community Center manager - Explorer Newspaper, 7/4/18