To Your Health

I have lived in Texas for 20 years. I have a great tan and have always supposed this protected me against skin cancer. Am I right?

Q: I have lived in Texas for 20 years. I have a great tan and have always supposed this protected me against skin cancer. Am I right?

A: After years of living in Texas, you may think your body has adapted to the summer sun, but tanning is really evidence of skin damage. Actually you are not reducing but rather increasing your risk of skin cancer.

About 80% of skin cancers are "basal cell carcinomas," which sounds bad but are seldom life-threatening if you don't neglect them. These are superficial cancers that can be easily taken care of by a dermatologist or oncologist.

Most of us are aware of the basics of summer skin care:

° Protect your skin from the sun with sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30.

° If you are in the water all day be sure to reapply sunscreen often.

° Wear a hat and sunglasses with UV-protective lenses.

° You may be in the water all day and (against good judgement) have used alcoholic or sweetened beverages to quench your thirst, so don't forget to drink plenty of good pure water.

In addition, a selenium supplement of 200 micrograms per day has been shown to reduce the risk of skin cancer. Silymarin, an herb that is more commonly used to help liver problems, is beneficial. Green tea, known for its high content of antioxidant substances (polyphenols), can also help.

If you do get sunburned, there are several remedies that will reduce your discomfort and aid the healing process. Aloe vera is a remarkably effective treatment for all kinds of burns. It is now even used in hospitals to treat burn victims. If you use a commercial brand of aloe vera ointment (rather than aloe vera leaves) be sure to check the label. You want one that is pure aloe with no mineral oil, waxes, artificial coloring, or alcohol added.

On the nutritional end, there are few things that help healing and reduce scarring as much as vitamin C, and you will need more than what is found in the typical multivitamin. As long as you don't have diarrhea, it is safe to take 1,000 mg of vitamin C at each meal. There are several other helpful nutrients that may be found in sufficient amounts in a good multivitamin/mineral, such as pantothenic acid, vitamin A, vitamin E, zinc, and copper, all of which have demonstrated benefits in healing.

For more serious burns, consider adding coenzyme Q-10, which promotes oxygenation of the cells and glucosamine, a precursor of collagen. L-cysteine or L-arginine, two amino acids that promote the healing of burns, are also helpful. If the burn becomes an open sore, sprinkling on sugar (at last, a good use for sugar!) inhibits bacterial growth while a scab forms.

You will enjoy your summer a lot more and save your hide by following a few simple precautions. Have fun and go in peace.

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