All skin colors are at risk of sunburn

I have to confess.

For most of my life, I've been quietly amused at how my white friends have struggled with sunburn. Never in a hateful way, mind you. Outwardly, I would empathize with their plight when they arrived from the beach redder than a lobster. Then I'd feign a slap on the back.

They would always say, "You're lucky you don't have to worry about that." Sometimes, I would roll up my sleeves to reveal some painless tan lines, but mostly I conceded Coppertone was for that little blond girl with the wily dog, not for me.

All that changed last week. For the first time in my 44 years, I got sunburned. Bad.

Last week, my friend and I took our combined broods (three kids each) for a quick trip to Orlando and spent the day at Aquatica, the new water park next to Sea World. I put some sunscreen on my 6-year-old daughter (mom's orders) and sprayed some on the boys. I put a little on me, but not much.

Call it a token effort.

After that, from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., we had a blast. The next day, when I threw my laptop bag over my shoulder there was a shot of pain. I thought, either the bag is getting really heavy or my muscles are getting really weak.

Then I looked in the mirror, pulled up my shirt and saw that my chest, shoulders and upper back bore a strange resemblance to an Alabama Crimson Tide jersey.

The burning persisted for the rest of the week, and now I'm peeling. I'm still in disbelief, but the experts insist I should have known better.

Dr. Vernon Sondak, the division chief of Cutaneous Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center, says sun damage and skin cancer does not discriminate.

"People need to understand that the sun is not their friend," Sondak said. "No matter your skin tone, everyone is at risk for developing skin cancer, even African-Americans, people from the Caribbean or olive-skinned people from the Mediterranean. No one is immune.

"Any amount of sun exposure that changes the appearance of your skin is doing damage. There is no such thing as a healthy tan."

Essentially, I did everything wrong. I didn't wear protective clothing or sunglasses, I didn't really put on sunscreen, and I definitely didn't reapply it every two hours.

Oh, and being out from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.? That's when the sun is at its strongest.

Remember, we're not talking about just avoiding sunburn, we're talking about preventing skin cancer. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and the fastest-growing cancer in the nation. According to the American Cancer Society, doctors expect to diagnose 1-million new cases of melanoma this year, including more than 4,000 in Florida — second highest in the nation.

Experts say that melanoma is more than 10 times as common in whites as in African-Americans, but that doesn't mean people of color should eschew prevention steps.

"It's good for our business, but it's not a smart thing to do," Sondak said.

When it comes to the power of the sun, everybody better recognize.

That's all I'm saying.

>>Fast Facts

Get sun smart

For more information on sun safety, go to www.moffitt.org and click on the news and events link.

All skin colors are at risk of sunburn 07/11/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 11, 2008 10:19pm]

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