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UV Radiation as Prominent in the Snow as on the Beach

Posted: December 1, 2010

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"Depending on the conditions, the UV index at a ski resort can potentially be as powerful as Waikiki on a bright, sunny day," he said, referring to the Hawaiian beach. He pointed out that his team had multiple readings of 10, or "very high," based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's UV index. But people's behavior didn't always match the UV intensity, report the researchers in the Archives of Dermatology.

Based on interviews with nearly 4,000 skiers and snowboarders, the team found that many failed to apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before hitting the slopes—enough time for it to be absorbed into the skin. The use of sunscreen lip balm, as well as wearing brimmed head covers and gloves, was also unrelated to UV levels. However, as the UV index rose, adults were slightly better about wearing protective sunglasses, putting on sunscreen and reapplying it every couple hours. This reapplication is key, Andersen said, as sunscreen can be broken down by UV itself, or washed off with sweat, precipitation or when snow shoots up into your face as you go down a mountain.

"Anything you can do to minimize your total chance of getting a sunburn, the better off you'll be," advised Andersen. "Eat your lunch in the shade, or if you're resting while other skiers catch up to you, stop under a tree." "Try to avoid the midday sun," he added. "And try to avoid going to the mountain on the sunniest days of the spring."

The researchers also recommend that ski resorts publish UV forecasts and promote sun-safety behaviors. "Skin cancer is an epidemic," said Andersen. "If we can ratchet the numbers down, we could reduce a lot of suffering and death, and have a positive impact on the nation's health bill."

SOURCE: Archives of Dermatology, online Nov. 17, 2010