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Alpine Skiers Risk Skin Cancer

Dangerous Sun Exposure on the Slopes Rivals the Beach

WebMD Health News

Jan. 29, 2003 -- Skiers hitting the slopes may soak up as many dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays as sun worshippers hitting the beach. A new study shows spending a winter's day at a Colorado ski resort may be just as damaging to your skin as a summer's day spent lounging poolside in Florida.

Researchers say people often don't think of sun protection in the winter, but the study shows alpine skiers should protect all exposed areas with a sunscreen with at a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Exposure to UV rays and sunburn have been shown to increase the risk of skin cancer and potentially deadly melanomas, especially if the exposure or sunburn occurs before age 18. Melanomas are potentially deadly cancers of the skin.

Although participation in winter sports such as skiing has been increasing in recent years, little is known about how much UV radiation skiers encounter at high altitudes. Researchers say UV exposure is known to increase at higher altitudes and its effects can be magnified by as much as 40% by the sun's rays reflecting off of snow.

To measure the levels of UV exposure typically encountered by skiers, researchers had 10 professional ski instructors at a popular Vail, Colo., resort wear UV sensors on their arms while skiing under various conditions and at altitudes of about 2,500 to 3,500 meters above sea level.

Researchers recorded hourly readings and found that the skiers were exposed to as many as 10 times the damaging ultraviolet rays in December as professional cyclists in the summertime Tour de Suisse cycling race in Europe.

The findings are published in the January issue of the Archives of Dermatology.

Researchers say the results show that programs are needed to educate skiers about the need for sun protection. Based on the daily UV exposure levels found by this study, they say all alpine skiers should consider using regular UV protection, including a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 30 on all exposed skin areas.

Public health efforts focus on encouraging the use of sunscreen avoiding outdoor activities during peak sun hours, and self-examinations for unusual moles on the skin.

SOURCE: Archives of Dermatology, January 2003.

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