July 2008

Sunscreen: Put it ON!

Author: Craig Hysell

If you sat down and thought about it, could you name the largest organ in the human body?

As your index finger begins to tap your lips softly in consideration, certain thoughts are probably beginning to emerge from the depths of your brain. (No, it’s not the brain.) Maybe you remember that the intestines are pretty big. Ironically, however, the large intestine is only about 5 feet long and the small intestine averages 20 feet. Neither of which is the right answer.

Arteries! Arteries stretch for miles. How many miles though? Arteries wind through the body for 93,000 miles and they still don’t come close to the weight of the human body’s largest organ. This game is beginning to get annoying.
Coaches and motivational speakers have it figured it out by now. Heart! You can’t beat the size and benefits of heart! Actually, according to biology and not the metaphysical, you can beat heart. The largest organ in the body is the same for a Hall of Famer as it is for a guy living in a van down by the river. It’s our skin. The average human’s skin weighs over one-hundred pounds and measures 20 square feet when stretched out. (Gross…)

If you said “skin” congratulations, there is no prize except the ultimate prize: the peace of self-fulfillment. If you’re like most people however, you simply overlooked your skin. It’s okay, but you need to stop. Especially when you live on, or are visiting, the beach.

According to skincancer.org, “A person’s risk for melanoma—the most serious form of skin cancer—doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns.” And, if that doesn’t seem scary enough, look at it another way. Zoe Draelos, M.D. and Clinical Associate Professor of Dermatology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine says, “Sunburn literally cooks the protein in the skin.” In essence, without proper protection, you’re baking yourself to death.

The solution, however, is simple: know what sunscreen to wear and how to apply it. And, before you tell yourself you don’t need sunblock, understand that the Environmental Protection Agency says, “Everybody, regardless of race or ethnicity, is subject to the potential adverse effects of overexposure to the sun.” That base tan doesn’t save you in today’s ozone damaged world, my friend.

There are two types of damaging ultraviolet rays, UVA and UVB. UVB is the radiation that causes sunburn. UVA does not cause the reddening or pain of a sunburn but causes invisible skin damage and skin aging. Make sure you purchase a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against both. (Anything with zinc oxide will offer protection against the lesser thought of UVA rays.)

Likewise, your 200 Sun Protection Factor (SPF) mega cream probably won’t do much better than the 30 SPF next to it on the shelf. 30 SPF blocks approximately 97% of the sun’s UVB rays and most experts agree that anywhere between 15 and 30 SPF is sufficient.

Apply your lotion, spray or topical ointment about a half hour before going into the sun so that the skin has time to absorb it and then re-apply after another half hour in the sun. Not re-applying could cause even more cell damage and swimming or sweating should be taken into account when you are considering lathering up again. (And, please, have somebody help you with your back, you don’t want those weird sunburned spots or red hand prints following you around all week do you?)
Remember that you can still get sunburned on a cloudy day and solar intensity is always a factor when caring for your skin properly. The sun is always the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

If you protect your largest organ correctly, all your other organs will do just fine. As you long as you eat right, quit smoking, exercise and don’t drink to excess. Or don’t have any other inherited health maladies. But those are articles for another time…

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