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THE SUN // Don't love it too much

Today in the conclusion of our series on the Sun, we focus on its dangers.

It's hard not to love sunny days. Radical rays of radiation allow you to swim in the pool, play baseball, visit a theme park or participate in lots of other outdoor recreation.

But if you didn't prepare for your time outside, especially in Florida, you could be left with some miserable and painful souvenirs from the sun. Who wants to deal with burning, itching, blistering skin?

Although we need the sun, we also need to protect ourselves from it. The sun is strong enough to damage your skin and eyes if you stay outdoors, unprotected, for even a short period of time _ especially if you have fair skin.

The amount of sun that hits your body while you're still young can end up being a big problem for you later on. The National Cancer Institute says that one severe sunburn during childhood or adolescence increases the risk of developing melanoma, a deadly skin cancer.

So, be careful out there.

Project Sunshine

For the past two years, Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa has been educating fourth-graders about the dangers of the sun. m, Project Sunshine, teaches students about skin cancer risk factors, skin cancer prevention and the warning signs.

Here are Project Sunshine's Golden Rules for Sun Safety:

Choose a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.

Choose a sunscreen that is PABA free.

Reapply sunscreen every two to three hours when in the sun.

Use a sunscreen that protects your skin from UVA and UVB rays.

If you are swimming or playing sports, choose a sunscreen that is waterproof or water-resistant.

Limit the amount of time you are in the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Apply the sunscreen 30 to 45 minutes before going out in the sun.

Wear a hat or protective clothing when in the sun.

Check out those moles

Most people are born with moles somewhere on their skin, and sometimes they show up spontaneously in the first decades of life. We'll have an average of 25 of them, and they are usually harmless.

Moles are different than freckles. Freckles are caused by the pigments in your skin and can increase in number and size with exposure to the sun.

Moles are evenly colored brown, tan or black spots that can be raised or flat. They are round or oval and are usually less than 6 millimeters in diameter (about the size of a pencil eraser).

Moles can turn into a melanoma, a dangerous skin cancer. The American Cancer Society has "ABCD" rules to help people distinguish moles from a melanoma. If your moles look like any of these, you should have them checked out:

Asymmetry. One half does not match the other half.

Border irregularity. The edges are ragged, notched or blurred.

Color is not uniform. Shades of tan, brown and black are present. Red, white and blue may add to the mottled appearance.

Diameter greater than 6 millimeters. Any sudden or continuing increase in size should be of special concern.

Change in the surface: Danger signs including scaliness, oozing, bleeding, the appearance of a bump or nodule, spread of pigment from the border into surrounding skin, change in sensation (itchiness or tenderness, for example).

Basking? You may be asking for trouble

As Floridians, we know how hot the sun can get. But if basking in the sun is your idea of a good time, consider the risks.

Though a bronzed body used to be a status symbol, doctors are now urging folks to stay clear of the sun unless protected by clothing or sunscreen. Every tan and sunburn accumulates in the skin and can cause trouble later on.

Even though your grandparents or parents may have been able to spend more time in the sun without sunscreen, that was then and this is now.

More of the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays are reaching Earth because our planet's protective ozone layer is being depleted. This intense ultraviolet radiation can affect your skin cells and immune system and may cause cancer.

Eyes at risk

The sun isn't picky _ it will go for your eyes just as quickly and easily as your skin.

In addition to a sunburn, you could end up with a retinal burn. With overexposure to the sun's infrared rays, the retina may sustain thermal burns resulting in permanent vision loss. Sunglasses designed for maximum sun protection will reduce the light coming at your eyes.

Sources: Protect Your Life in the Sun, Sunlight & Health, Moffitt Cancer Center, American Cancer Society