One thing I’ve noticed during my trips to Italy is that Italians just love to “prende al sole” or take the sun. It’s obvious from the colour and condition of their skin that many people spend most of their summer days hard at work basking. Some of them even like to get the overall tan, if you know what I mean.
They didn’t seem to worry about skin cancer, but then the Italians don’t worry about many things. For those of us in North America, specifically us gardeners who spend hours outside in pursuit of our favourite hobby, skin cancer should be a concern. Environment Canada is forecasting another hot and dry summer for the Okanagan and that means lots of sunshine.
The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that 6,800 Canadians will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2015 and 1,150 will die from from it. It’s a fact; the more time you spend in the sun, the higher your risk of contacting skin cancer. And the average gardener spends 2.8 hours a week on their hobby, says the National Gardening Association. Some of us spend far more than that.
We can be very diligent about applying sunscreen when we go to the beach, but when it comes to picking up the tools and heading out into the garden we forget. That’s OK if we’re only out there for 15 minutes, but how many times have we got involved in something and the time stretches past an hour and our skin is red from unprotected exposure?
Avoiding the sun entirely is the best prevention, but that’s not realistic for keen gardeners who have tasks to complete and just love to be outside. Try to work your longest periods of time before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are less intense. And don’t assume that because it’s cloudy that you don’t need to take precautions. The UV index can still be high enough to damage skin when clouds cover the sun.
Use a good sunblock with an SPF rating of 15 or higher, 30 is even better. Make sure it’s a good product that doesn’t wash off easily, not a “fashion” sunblock that disappears as soon as you begin to sweat.
Wear a broad-brimmed hat when you’re working and loose fitting clothing to block the sun. There are hats, pants and shirts that have SPF in the fabric for even greater protection.
Check your skin monthly, noting the shapes and patterns of moles and freckle patterns and any changes that may have happened over time. Deadly melanomas can occur anywhere, not just in areas that have been exposed to sun. See your doctor if you are concerned about any irregularities.
As the Skin Cancer Foundation notes in a print ad campaign “A raisin is a grape that didn’t have the sense to get out of the sun.” A raisin is a healthy snack, skin that looks like a raisin is not so healthy. You only need to spend time on an Italian beach to realize that!

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