Summer sun exposure can be dangerous for ag producers

Reported by: Rebecca Rivers

Reported by: Andrew Wood
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Updated: 5/13/2013 8:37 am

With temperatures already climbing to 90 degrees this May, we know hotter days are becoming the norm. And summertime brings with it some dangers from sun exposure that dermatologist Ashley Sturgeon, M.D. said that farmers may be especially susceptible to.

"Farmers are exposed to the sun a lot, in the summer especially, and especially during planting season, but all times of the year, so it's really important to make sure that farmers protect their skin from the sun," Sturgeon said. "A lot of our patients are farmers, so we see lots of farmers come through our clinic, we cut off lots of skin cancers off farmers. It's much easier to take care of a skin cancer before it ever happens, so prevention is the most important thing."

Of course avoiding the sun completely is the most effective way to prevent skin cancer, but that's not always practical for ag producers who make their livings working outside.

"Staying out of the sun is not very easy for farmers to do, so the best thing to do is wear sunscreen and then protective clothing like long sleeves and a hat," Sturgeon said. 

When deciding on which sunscreen to buy, Sturgeon said that there are a few important things to look for, but wearing any type of sunscreen is better than nothing.

"SPF of greater than 30, 30 or greater is fine. You want broad spectrum protection," Sturgeon said. "I like sunscreen that is zinc-based, it's not white like it used to be, so they rub in very nicely. My boss says that the most important thing about a sunscreen is whether you'll put it on or not, so the best sunscreen is the one that you'll use."

Areas that are often missed when it comes to sun protection are the tops of the ears and the backs of your hands, but wearing hats and gloves can offer great coverage. Sturgeon's husband is a farmer and she makes sure he wears a wide-brimmed hat anytime he works outside.

"We take off a lot of skin cancers on the tops of the ears. It's an area that ball caps don't cover very well, so a broad-brim hat is really ideal like this one or even bigger. I like for my patients to wear big cowboy hats," Sturgeon said. 

Another tip, check moles and new sores often. If you notice any changes, make an appointment to see your dermatologist.

"If something is new, growing, changing in anyway, changing in color, shape, size, it's always good to have a physician take a look at it," Sturgeon said. "After it comes up, depending on what kind of skin cancer it is, it may vary from just having a simple surgery or even lymph node biopsies and having to be put to sleep to have big, big surgeries on your cancer."

Sturgeon said that your motto should be "reapply, reapply, reapply" when it comes to sunscreen. And if at all possible, try to avoid direct sun exposure between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun's rays are the most threatening.

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