Sun safety is for farmers, too

·4 min read
Haley Zynda
Haley Zynda

We just celebrated the summer solstice, meaning we are officially in summer (although the steamy temps have suggested we were there long ago).

Outdoor recreationalists are known to be strong supporters of sunscreen, with many sunscreen companies even offering “sport” varieties that are sweat-and waterproof for over an hour. However, it’s important that even we agriculturalists make sure to protect ourselves from the sun.

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Long-term exposure to the sun without skin protection can lead to a variety of skin cancers, the leading form of cancer in humans. Basal and squamous cell skin cancer is the most common, with about 80% of skin cancers diagnosed as basal cell cancer.

This equates to about 5.4 million cases per year (cancer.org). It typically occurs on areas of the body most commonly exposed to the sun, such as the head, nose and neck. Fortunately, basal and squamous cell skin cancer is highly treatable by removing the patch of affected skin. Very few deaths occur from this kind of skin cancer.

On the other hand, a less common form of skin cancer, melanoma, is much more deadly. It accounts for 1% of skin cancer diagnoses, or about 100,000 cases per year (cancer.org).

Each year, about 7,600 people will die from melanoma. Caucasians have a greater risk factor than African Americans, and on average, men are more likely to be affected than women.

Melanoma one of the most common cancers in people younger than 30

Melanoma is actually one of the most common cancers in people younger than 30 years of age, too (cancer.org). Doing mole checks can be a way to monitor yourself if you have risk factors for melanoma or have noticed new blemishes on your body. Using the ABCDE rule, you can check new moles for melanoma risk: asymmetry, border, color, diameter, and evolving.

Malignant moles may have asymmetrical halves, a jagged border, off or uneven coloring, a diameter greater than that of a pencil eraser, and may change characteristics over time. However, there are always exceptions to the rule. Other warning signs include wounds that don’t heal, oozing, redness, itchiness or pain of bodily blemishes (cancer.org).

While we are all able to get skin cancer, some folks have higher risk factors aside from skin tone. Those of us with naturally blonde or red hair and freckles need to be extra careful in the sun (I always have sunscreen with me).

Some medications may increase sensitivity to UV light as well, such as antibiotics, cholesterol-controlling medications, and antihistamines (fda.gov).

If you have a condition that compromises your immune system, you may also be at a higher risk. Lastly, family history of melanoma can also be a risk factor for this type of skin cancer.

Prevention of skin cancer

Prevention of skin cancer is a one step process – protect your skin from the sun. I’m not suggesting we sit inside all the time, sun exposure is actually very important for vitamin D activation in our body. Aside from that, it’s also hard to farm from the couch. Using sunscreen generously with at least 30 SPF can protect up to 97% UVA and UVB rays.

Remember, sunscreen does have an expiration date, so the tube of Coppertone that’s been rolling around in the farm truck for the past five years probably isn’t cutting it anymore. Use a lip balm with SPF as well to prevent sunburned lips. Ballcaps are good to keep sun off your face, but consider a hat with a brim that goes all the way around the head, or a drape to cover your ears and neck.

Physically covering skin with clothing also works, but can get very hot. Some companies make lightweight long-sleeve tees that have built-in UV protection. I usually refer to them as sun shirts (common in the equine world) and they are very comfortable to wear, even in 90-degree weather.

Sun protection is for everyone who spends a lot of time outdoors, farmers included. Make sure to stock up on sunscreen (or zinc cream if you’re especially at risk or zealous about skin protection), lip balm, and hats and I’ll see you in the field!

Haley Zynda is an OSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722 or zynda.7@osu.edu

This article originally appeared on The Daily Record: Farmers should be vigilant about sun protection