Sun Protection: So Important!

By Bill Schultz - May 1, 2011
I would bet that every one of you reading this article knows someone who has dealt with skin cancer. And maybe, like me, you even know someone who has died from complications related to malignant melanoma.

Skin cancer is frightening, and protecting ourselves while in the sun can be lifesaving. Many of us spent time in the sun before ever hearing of sunscreen, and we can only hope that those sunburns don't lead to problems as we age. Living in Wisconsin, we try to pack as much outdoor activity as possible into our half-year of nice weather. Fishing, boating, hiking and golfing are just a few of the many things we love to do outside.

For me, it's fishing and hiking. Whether in the Crestliner, Wilderness Systems Kayak, in my waders or hiking one of the many wonderful trails of the Southern Kettle Moraine, I spend a great deal of time on or in the water and outside in general. I've said many times that the only part of fishing I don't like is "baking" in the sun, especially if I'm not catching fish. In fact, if the fishing is slow, I usually head home. I haven't been perfect by any means when it comes to using sunscreen or wearing protective clothing. Over the past 15 years, however, I've done a good job wearing sunscreen, and that's also about the time I discovered the Columbia Sportswear flat's style hat with the flap that covers my ears and neck. Recently, I not only wear sunscreen whenever I'm on the water, I also wear one of my Columbia hats, their SPF (Sun Protection Factor) clothing and last year, I began protecting the backs of my hands with the Glacier Glove Dr. Shade fingerless gloves.

For the purpose of the article and in an effort to give you information that might encourage you to do your best to protect yourself when in the sun, I asked Sam Hwang, MD, PhD, Chairman and Professor of Dermatology at The Medical College of Wisconsin, what we should look for on our bodies to identify skin cancer or conditions that can lead to skin cancer.

"Patients should look for persistent small bumps or nodules that bleed easily (are easily traumatized), do not go away by themselves, or continue to grow or change shape or color," Dr. Hwang said. "There are several types of skin cancers that commonly are induced by long term sunlight: melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma. They all have unique characteristics that your primary care provider or dermatologist can look for if you are concerned."

A few years ago, I noticed that the Columbia clothing that I like so much was marked with an SPF rating, which stands for "sun protection factor." I asked Anne Sanford, Public Relations at Columbia Sportswear, when they first came out with the SPF clothing and why.

"Columbia started making sun protective apparel in 2008, when we partnered with The Skin Cancer Foundation and introduced our line of Omni-Shade products," she said. "Columbia has received a very positive response from the public and with our extensive line of Omni-Shade products, consumers have a wide range of choices of sun protective clothing for a variety of outdoor activities."

Columbia was the first global company to receive The Skin Cancer Foundation's Seal of Recommendation, which is awarded to safe and effective sun protective clothing with a minimum SPF of 30.

The last couple of years, I've been pretty religious about wearing the hats, shirts and pants. They are light and breathe so well, that most days I am able to wear long-sleeve shirts and on those extremely hot days, I wear the shorts and short-sleeve shirts with sunscreen on exposed skin.

I asked Dr. Hwang about SPF levels in sunscreen and if products like Neutragena with Helioplex are better than others.

"SPF is a relative measure and not perfect," he said. "Sunscreens beyond 50 are likely to not have any better protections than those beyond that number and in many countries, all sunscreens over 30 or 50 are lumped together in one category."

Explaining the differences between UVA and UVB rays, Dr. Hwang said, "SPF is a measure of effectiveness in regard to UVB, but we now know that UVA can cause significant solar damage and can penetrate deeper into the skin than UVB. Thus, most dermatologists recommend sunscreens that have both UVA and UVB protection, so look for that on the labels."

I also asked Dr. Hwang about ingredients like Helioplex, which is in some Neutrogena products.

"Some sunscreens contain agents like Helioplex that stabilize the UVA/UVB protective properties on the sunscreen," he said. "For the most complete light protection, some dermatologists recommend sunblocks that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide in a very micronized form. Because the small particles of these agents block all light waves, they can be more effective than the chemical-based sunscreens."

I remember those days on the waterfront at the YMCA camp putting zinc oxide on my nose, as I'd seen many lifeguards do. I guess at least my nose was getting some protection. Speaking of an area that may need extra protection for anglers, what about our hands that are hopefully getting wet catching and, in my case, releasing fish?

I was thinking about this a couple of years ago and saw a product by Glacier Glove. It was the Dr. Shade fingerless gloves with a lycra backing and synthetic leather palms and an SPF rating of 30. They fit nice and snug, and I really felt better knowing that the backs of my hands and wrists were now protected. That glove is now rated at an SPF of 50 and instead of the synthetic leather comes with a polyurethane palm, which dries quickly and does not get slick when wet.

Jay Kincaid from Glacier Glove told me that the Dr. Shade products, which also include hats, were developed in 2003 because they saw a need for it, especially in the fishing industry.

"We have had a great response within the fishing industry, and conveniently the response from the general public has been great as well," he said. "Every year, people are becoming more educated and concerned about the potential harmful effects of the sun, and this carries over to a wide variety of outdoor activities, not just fishing."

I asked both Sanford and Kincaid if Columbia and Glacier Glove based their products on any research. Sanford reported that, "at Columbia the idea to create the Omni-Shade collection came out of our fishing line. Fishermen are exposed to sun rays for extensive periods of time and require sun protective apparel, so we worked with our designers and an independent lab to create and test our Omni-Shade line, which is in a wide variety of products including our shirts, shorts, pants and accessories."

Kincaid said, "at Glacier Glove, our research revolves around creating the very best functional product for its intended use. We have our materials tested so that we know, and our customers can trust, that they comply with specific SPF ratings."

Echoing Dr. Hwang's information on UVA and UVB protection, Columbia's Omni-Shade blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Sanford says this is accomplished through several different methods like tight weave construction, UV reflectors and UV absorbing technology.

"Importantly, Omni-Shade does not break down over time, but we recommend that you follow the garment washing instructions," he said. Columbia's Omni-Shade protection is available in SPF 15, SPF 30, SPF 40 and SPF 50+.

I am probably guilty of not reapplying sunscreen as often as I should, despite knowing that it is best.

"Studies have shown most people use only ½ to ¼ of the amount of sunscreen needed for full SPF protection," Dr. Hwang said. "The key is applying liberally and rub it well into the skin."

There is a tremendous variability in the ability of any sunscreen to remain on the skin or to remain chemically stable once applied. This question is what led me to begin wearing the Dr. Shade during much of my fishing. Dr. Hwang encourages people to apply sunscreen every two to three hours using SPF 30 or higher sunscreen when we go out in direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time.

When I asked Dr. Hwang if there were any other key things he'd like to share, he said, "There are signs that you may be prone to skin cancers, even before one develops obvious cancer. These include the development of small red spots that are scaly (rough) to the touch on the face and other sun-exposed parts of the body. If you have more than a few of these lesions, you should be careful about sun exposure. These lesions are called 'actinic keratoses' and have a low risk of developing in a type of skin cancer. Another sign is the development of many small 'freckle-like' flat spots (called solar lentigoes) on your face and other sun-exposed locations. These lesions tell you that your skin has been exposed to significant amounts of solar radiation during your lifetime, this placing you at risk for skin cancer."

Seeing your primary care provider or dermatologist is extremely important if you have any of the lesions that Dr. Hwang mentioned. They should be carefully examined and you may need to have a yearly screening based on your initial examination.

As I write this article and think about what has been shared, I can't help but feel this is the most important information I've ever offered. Don't take chances - please be careful when out on the water. Protect yourself so you can look forward to a lifetime of fishing.

Author Bill Schultz

Bill Schultz
Bill Schultz lives in New Berlin, WI and is a contributing writer for www.onwisconsinoutdoors.com., www.lake-link.com, www.smallmouths.com, www.onwisconsinoutdoors.com and various outdoor magazines, including On Wisconsin Outdoors and Kayak Angler Magazine. He is a smallmouth bass enthusiast and since catching his first in 1994 has caught and released over 19,000 smallies. His focus has been the big waters of Green Bay in Door County along with rivers and streams throughout Wisconsin. Bill is a popular seminar speaker and is on the Pro Staffs for Wilderness Systems Kayaks, Adventure Technology Paddles, St. Croix Rod, Crestliner Boats, Mercury Marine, Uncle Josh Bait Co, and has sponsorships with a variety of other fishing and outdoor companies. Email: smalliecentral@gmail.com