The why and how of sun protection – Part 1

by Wes Bolyard

The American Academy of Dermatology, the largest and most influential of all U.S. dermatologic associations, says that more than two million people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. May is designated as National Skin Cancer Awareness Month, but that’s only to remind us that we need to protect ourselves year-round. There are a variety of ways to do this, but first it’s important to understand the science behind sun protection.

Simply put, ultraviolet radiation (UVR), also known as UV radiation or ultraviolet rays, is a form of energy traveling through space. The sun is our major source of UV rays but cannot be seen or felt. The three wavelength bands of UVR (UVA, UVB and UVC) are based on the amount of energy they contain and their effects on biological matter. UVC rays, the most energetic and most harmful, are filtered out by the ozone layer. UVB rays have more energy than UVA rays, and therefore have a greater ability to cause skin damage. Despite being weaker, 100 times more UVA rays reach the earth’s surface.

UV levels vary during the day and also change intensity with the seasons. UV levels may be lower on cloudy days because they can deflect some rays up into space. However, under partly cloudy skies the so-called “broken-cloud effect” can result in higher UV levels than in a clear sky because the clouds can reflect additional radiation to the ground. Altitude, sand, snow, water and proximity to the equator are other factors that also influence UV levels.

Now that you know the “why” of sun protection, don’t be scared, be prepared! How do we do that? The most obvious answer is to reduce the amount of time one spends in the sun, particularly between the hours of 11 am and 3 pm, when the sun is at its highest in the sky. As golfers, we know that is not easy to do, so we opt for the two most acceptable alternatives, sunscreen and clothing.

Sunscreens contain ingredients that attempt to keep UVR from reaching your skin. Since sunscreens guard against UVA and UVB rays differently, it is important to select one with a broad-spectrum of protection. Accomplish this by choosing a sunscreen with zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone or ecamsule in the active ingredient list. Two product lines by Johnson and Johnson, Neutrogena and Aveeno, come highly recommended by a leading dermatologist. Another recommended product is by Vanicream whose sunscreen is formulated with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Learn about SPF and more on the “how” in Arizona Golfer’s next issue.  Get more information by visiting