Your health: High altitude means higher risk of sun-induced skin damage |

Your health: High altitude means higher risk of sun-induced skin damage

Special to the Tribune
A higher SPF sunscreen lotion protects longer, but not better. It's important to reapply regularly.
Getty Images / iStockphoto |

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Skin cancer remains the most common cancer in the U.S., with more than 3.5 million cases diagnosed each year.

Rates of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, have risen by more than 700% in women 18-39 years old in the past few decades.

Higher altitude means increased risk of sun-induced skin damage, since UV radiation exposure increases 4 to 5 percent with every 1,000 feet above sea level.

At an altitude of 9,000 to 10,000 feet, UV radiation may be 35 to 45 percent more intense than at sea level, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Take this quiz before you step out in the sun:

1. The higher the sunscreen the better: True or False.

2. SPF protects against which kind of rays: UVA, UVB, Both.

3. Melanoma may be especially dangerous for pregnant women: True or False.

4. Eighty percent of sun damage in your lifetime occurs before you turn 18: True or False.

5. The number of moles on your _____ predicts your cancer risk: Arm, Face, Back.

6. Which of these has been shown to protect against sun damage: Oily fish, Green tea, Broccoli, or All of the above.

7. Drinking coffee can _______ your risk of melanoma: Raise or Lower.

8. It’s safe to let my children stay in the pool all day if they slip on a T-shirt after a couple hours and reapply sunscreen to their faces, arms, and legs: True or False.

Here are the answers:

1. FALSE: A higher SPF protects longer, not better. Even then the difference is minor. SPF 30 blocks 97, while SPF 50 blocks 98% of rays. Reapply every 2 hours.

2. UVB: To fend off skin-aging UVA and protect against skin cancer, you want a broad spectrum sunscreen.

3. TRUE: Being pregnant causes the hormone levels to increase, possibly causing the skin to become more sensitive. Use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which is kinder to sensitive skin.

4. FALSE: About 23% of lifetime sun exposure occurs by age 18.

5. ARM: Having more than 11 moles on your right arm is a sign that you have 100 moles or more on your body.

6. All of the above: Oily fish like salmon blocks UV radiation. Green tea and broccoli are packed with antioxidants which can help protect against UV cell damage.

7. LOWER: A recent study found coffee may protect against melanoma.

8. FALSE: UV rays can easily go through a white cotton T-shirt, especially if it’s wet. Most wet, light-colored T-shirts only give about as much protection as an SPF 4 sunscreen — certainly not enough for all day and well below the minimum of SPF 30 recommended by the American Cancer Society. Better clothing choices include dark colors, fabrics with tight weaves, and specially treated garments and swimsuits.

This article was provided by the Wellness Neighborhood, a service of Tahoe Forest Health System, helping you Rethink Healthy. For more information on sun safety, visit

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