Wear Sunscreen

In 1997, a commencement speech given by Kurt Vonnegut, entitled “Wear Sunscreen,” hit the airwaves and motivated people to take inventory of their lives – whether they were 22, 42 or 62.

It started by saying:
     Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’98: Wear sunscreen.

     If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proven by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.

It turned out that speech was actually a column written by Mary Schmich and appeared in The Chicago Tribune in August 1997.

But the words had impact. And now, 20 years later, those words are truer than ever.

Those 20 years have given us that many more years of data proving the benefits of sunscreen and the damage caused by the sun’s rays. New research also shows that other types of light sources may also cause skin damage.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, about 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and about 86 percent of melanomas are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun.

Data presented at the 2015 5-Continent Congress for Lasers and Aesthetic Medicine conference showed that even lower doses of ambient and infrared light from computer screens and overhead lamps may instigate age spots and freckling.  

And for those of us here in Estes Park, where we live, work and play at a higher altitude of 7,500 feet, we have higher exposure levels to the sun’s harmful rays. The Skin Cancer Foundation states that UV radiation increases by five percent with every thousand feet you rise above sea level.

In the winter season, when the ground is blanketed with bright white snow, those harmful UV rays bounce off the snow and actually intensify. The harsh elements of winter weather, such as wind and dry, cold air, also intensify the effects of skin aging and may actually erode applied sunscreen faster.

UV rays, particularly UVA rays, which are potent year round, still penetrate the overcast clouds common during the winter months. It is these types of rays that can cause the most damage to skin by accelerating the aging process and creating fine lines and wrinkles.

So none of us want to hole up indoors and avoid the sun during the winter. We want to get outside and enjoy the fresh mountain air. We want to hike around Lake Estes and take our dog to the dog park. But we should take precautions to avoid damaging our skin for the future.

So, as the commencement speech goes, “Wear sunscreen.”

And according to that 20 years of data, wear at least a 30 SPF sunscreen, wear it daily, and reapply it frequently when outdoors.

For more information about outdoor, and indoor, activities provided by Estes Valley Recreation and Park District, visit www.evrpd.com.