Keeping your skin healthy in Eagle County |

Keeping your skin healthy in Eagle County

Sarah Mausolf
Vail CO, Colorado
HL Skin Care TS 03-22-08

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Nothing says spring like the goggle tan. Skiers and snowboarders are soaking up the season’s bluebird days, leaving telltale sunburns on their mugs.

While those raccoon eyes are evidence of fun on the mountain, that sun exposure has a dark side.

“Skin cancers are rampant out here, especially with the lifestyle,” said Wendy Francis, a physician assistant with Vail Dermatology in Edwards.

* With Vail Mountain jutting more than 11,000 feet into the sky, we are at a greater risk of sun damage than our friends at sea level, experts say. “The issue is you’re higher up and you have less of the Earth’s atmosphere protecting you,” said Darrell Rigel, a professor of dermatology at New York University.

* The higher you go, the less time it takes to burn. At the top of chair 3 on Vail Mountain at noon, it takes 15 minutes for a person with normal skin and no sunscreen to burn this time of year, Rigel said. That’s half the time it takes to burn in New York City in June, when the sun is strongest there, he said.

* Ultraviolet intensity increases by 8 to 10 percent per 1,000 feet of elevation on Vail Mountain, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Rigel and fellow researchers measured the effects of UVB radiation on skiers during a cloudless day in March 1998. The authors took readings at the top of chair 3 (11,000 feet), then skied down the mountain, stopping every 500 feet for additional readings.

* That fresh powder boosts our risk. Snow reflects 40 percent of the UV rays that hit it, increasing the exposure we get on the mountain, Rigel said.

* Be thorough: Slather sunscreen on body parts that might seem obscure, like the top of your head. Dermatologists see a lot of skin cancer in the part between hair, Francis said. Other easily-forgotten spots are behind the ears, tip of the nose, back of the hands and shins, she said.

* UVA and UVB: Read the label on your sunscreen. The most effective brands protect against UVA and UVB rays, Francis said. While most sunscreens protect against UVB, the rays that cause burning, only certain brands tackle UVA rays, which cause long-term genetic damage, Francis said.

* Chemical versus physical: While sunscreens chemically absorb UV rays, sunblocks deflect them. Experts recommend the latter, also known as physical blocks. Armed with zinc or titanium dioxide, physical blocks don’t need to be reapplied as often, Francis said. If you can’t get your hands on a physical block, find a sunscreen with a stabilizer that prevents it from breaking down quickly, Francis said. She recommends Neutrogena, Mexoryl or Avobenzine.

* Strength: Choose a sunscreen with 30 SPF or higher, Jean Urquhart, a dermatologist with Vail Dermatology, recommends.

* That vintage look: There’s a reason why Coloradans often look weathered.

“Excessive sun causes premature aging,” Urquhart said. Too much sun can cause lines, wrinkles and brown spots on the skin, experts say.

* Melanoma: Although melanomas make up the smallest percentage of skin cancers, they account for the most deaths, according to Mayo Clinic research. That’s because they can spread to other parts of the body. How do you spot melanoma? “Any mole that doesn’t look like the rest,” Francis explains. Look for asymmetrical moles, moles with irregular borders or changes in the color of a mole. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2008 there will be 62,480 new cases of melanoma nationwide. About 8,420 people will die of this disease this year, the society estimates.

* Basal Cell Carcinoma: This is the most common type of skin cancer. It typically appears on the head, neck and hands as a small, fleshy bump or red patch. While it rarely spreads, it can extend below the skin to the bone and nerves, causing local damage, according to an American Academy of Dermatology brochure.

* Squamous Cell Carcinoma: This is the second most common type of skin cancer, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Check for a bump or red, scaly patch on the rim of the ear, face, lips and mouth. This type of skin cancer can spread to other parts of the body.

High Life Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 748-2938 or

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