Shedding some light on sun protection

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jason Wiese
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
Some say behind every dark cloud is a silver lining. Perhaps the silver lining behind every dark cloud is that it provides shade from the harmful effects of the sun.

According to the Sun Safety Alliance, areas of higher altitude receive more ultraviolet radiation exposure because of thinner, cleaner air. At approximately 5,700 feet above sea level, this places the people of Warren at greater risk for sun damage.

For this reason, Airmen should take measures to protect themselves from the sun so they do not suffer from its damaging effects.

"The ultraviolet radiation from sunlight and tanning beds can have harmful, even potentially fatal, effects," said Capt. Greg Bellanca, 90th Medical Operation Squadron nurse practitioner.

The most immediate harmful effect of sunlight exposure is sunburn. It is painful and can diminish work productivity. While first-degree sunburns are irritating and unsightly, the more severe second-degree sunburns are painful and can blister, he said.

Too much exposure to sunlight can make a person appear to age more quickly. It causes wrinkles and sunspots, he added.

While cosmetic effects provide good reason to take care of skin in the sun, probably the most serious possible effect of prolonged sunlight exposure is skin cancer.

There are several forms of cancer and precancerous lesions that can develop due to prolonged sunlight exposure, he said.

"The most dangerous, of course, is melanoma," Bellanca added. "It has the highest mortality rate, is the most aggressive and can spread to other organs."

Individuals with darker skin sometimes think they do not have to worry about the damaging effects of the sun, but they are also susceptible to the damaging effects of the sun, including cancers, warned Bellanca.

"The number one way to protect yourself is to wear sunscreen," he said.

People can also protect themselves by avoiding the outdoors during peak hours for sunlight.

Peak hours for intense sunlight are between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Scheduling activities before outside of those hours helps to alleviate the risk of sun damage, he said.

Another way to protect the skin is to wear long sleeves, long pants and a wide-brim hat. Some individuals prefer to wear shorts and short sleeves because it's hot, but protecting one's skin is more important, Bellanca said.

"People who want to wear more revealing clothing should do so outside the peak sunlight hours," he said.

When Airmen do not protect themselves from sunlight, they can also portray a negative image of the Air Force, said Tech. Sgt. Gary Wayland, 90th Missile Wing Honor Guard noncommissioned officer in charge.

"Because we have to present a professional appearance, I let my individuals know that they need to protect themselves from the sun," he said.

He said he would not allow any of his Airmen to perform at an honor guard demonstration if they were badly sunburned because it would place the Air Force in a negative light.

"It shows we're not taking care of ourselves," he said.

In order to maintain combat readiness and present a professional image, some of the primary duties of the Airmen at F. E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., Airmen must protect themselves on all fronts -- not the least of which are the damaging effects of prolonged sun exposure.