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Do you know how to protect yourself from cancer (and wrinkles) this weekend?

May 28, 2010 |  7:00 am

Over the long Memorial Day weekend, thousands of Southern Californians will be heading into the great outdoors, beckoned by our beautiful beaches, parks, campgrounds, back yards and, of course,  gorgeous weather. Nothing to do but kick back and relax, right?

Not so fast. There are UV rays lurking everywhere outdoors, sun or shade, and a new survey shows that Angelenos are among the least savvy people in the nation when it comes to sun protection: Los Angeles ranked No. 22 out of 26 major cities surveyed by the American Academy of Dermatology. We were only one place above Seattle, where it rains all the time, for goodness sake! And even people in New York City -- New York City! -- knew more than we did.

Maybe it's the idealized California bronze look, immortalized by movie stars; maybe it's the tanning salons in every strip mall; maybe it's the surfer-skater-bicyclist-beach-bunny lifestyle. But we are out of touch with reality! (Meaning: Too much sun causes cancer -- and wrinkles!)

Well, my friends, I hail from Tampa, Fla., (ranked No. 4) and let me tell you: You need sunblock, you need hats, you need to cover up during the brightest part of the day. But the academy's survey (done online, with about 7,000 respondents) showed that despite the known risks of skin cancer (not to mention wrinkles), many people just don't get it.

"Our survey showed that despite our repeated warnings about the dangers of UV exposure and the importance of proper sun protection, many people could not correctly answer true/false statements on the subject,” said dermatologist Zoe D. Draelos in a statement issued along with the results.

Here are some of the Academy's findings:

Myth: Some types of ultraviolet rays are safe for your skin.
The survey found that only about one-third (35%) of respondents correctly answered false to this question. All forms of UV exposure are harmful, whether from direct sunlight, sunlight filtered through a window or artificial light from a tanning bed.

Myth: Getting a base tan is a healthy way to protect skin from sun damage.
Only 48% of respondents knew this statement was false. In fact, a tan is a sign of damage to the skin and this damage is cumulative so the more often you tan, the greater the risk of cancer (and wrinkles and sunspots and other signs of age).

Myth: It is smarter to tan indoors using a tanning bed.
More than half (63%) of respondents knew that this statement was false, but that still meant almost 40% got it wrong. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the International Agency of Research on Cancer panel say that tanning beds can cause more damage than the sun itself.

The survey found that 70% of respondents don't apply sunscreen every day and about 25% don't know they must reapply it periodically if they are outside for a long time. So getting in the sunscreen habit -- and using it correctly -- would be a good first step in fighting UV rays that can cause cancer (and wrinkles).

But: “Regardless of the SPF you use, wearing sunscreen should not provide a false sense of security about protection from UVB exposure,” said Draelos. “No sunscreen can provide 100% UVB protection, but using a higher SPF provides greater UVB protection than a lower SPF. It’s important to remember sunscreen must be reapplied regularly and be part of an overall sun-protection plan that includes hats, sunglasses, protective clothing and seeking shade."

See? That's pretty much what I said above. Have fun this weekend, but take along the sunscreen, hats and all the other stuff you need. Be careful out there!

--Susan Denley

Photo: A crowd at Glen Ivy Hot Springs   Credit: Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times