Sunscreens

In the eyes of Nature we are just another species in trouble. —Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox, The Imperial Animal

Without a thinned ozone layer your chances of developing skin cancer are one in six. A decrease of 10 percent in thickness of the ozone layer could raise the risk at least 15 percent, but no one is certain. A significant increase in eye cataracts, which now afflict 10 percent of us, could also occur. How can we protect ourselves?

The most popular way is to apply sunscreen chemicals to your skin. Unfortunately, only one sunbather in three bothers with sunscreen lotion, which contains chemical compounds designed to absorb UV-B radiation. Some also absorb UV-A, which is desirable. Commercial sunscreen lotions are ranked by their sun protection factor (SPF), which applies to UV-B only.16 SPF ratings indicate how much longer the sun-screen's use will allow you to be in the sun without getting sunburned. Say that skin begins to burn after 10 minutes of exposure. When it is protected by an SPF 15 sunscreen, a comparable burn will take 15 times as long. The higher the SPF the longer the protection lasts. Perspiration and water remove sunscreens, so they should be reapplied every 2 hours, even on cloudy days. Lotions with a sun protection factor of 15 block out 93 percent of the UV-B radiation; an SPF of 30 blocks out 97 percent. The American College of Dermatology recommends use of only lotions with an SPF of at least 15. In Ohio in 2003 the badly sunburned faces of three young siblings were enough to have the local sheriff charge the mother with the felony of "child endangerment" and throw her in jail. The felony charges were dropped a week later, but the message to the public was clear: neglecting to apply sunscreen to your kids is a form of child abuse.17

Hats with a brim at least 6 inches wide are also recommended, as are fabrics with a tight weave to keep out radiation. Sunglasses treated to absorb UV rays are also a good idea.

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