Sun, Fun: But Take Care

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By CAPT. MEL BERMAN, 970-WFLA

Living here in the Sunshine State is a sheer joy, especially for those of us who are addicted to fishing. Yet, most of us don’t realize, or aren’t aware of how very much stronger the Florida sun is – especially when compared to other regions of the country.  According to highly regarded Tampa dermatologist Dr. John Millns, an avid fisherman himself, most of us could be doing damage to their skin. This is because the amount of ultra-violet light here in Florida is five times greater as compared to northern locations like Chicago, Detroit or Toledo.

“We don’t actually feel the strong ultra-violet light — as you do with the heat of the infra-red component of light. Oftentimes you only feel the effects of the extra ultra-violet rays after you burn – and then it’s too late, because the damage has already been done. And it takes very little ultra-violet light to cause sunburn,” said Dr. Millns.

He talked about the six skin types which also determine the severity of the burn.  For example, Type- 1 would be an individual of Northern European ancestry with pure white skin that always burns and never tans.   In the mid range, a Type 3 would be someone with Mediterranean origins, who tans easily and rarely burns.  Most African Americans are Type-6 who rarely burn under most circumstances.

Many of us who spend long periods in the sun can get acute sunburns, or what Dr. Millns calls sub-clinical sunburns. “Everybody’s familiar with someone turning beet-red after five hours in the sun at the beach or on the water – and then being miserable for the next two or three days until that skin peels off. But what many don’t realize is that they also get some clinical damage. You don’t see the redness, but you’re doing damage to the cells of your skin.” He said the cumulative effect of those sub clinical exposures and periodic bad sunburns tends to cause chronic sun damage, which accumulates over long periods of time.  How many times have you seen someone who’s worked on a fishing vessel for 50 years?  The back of their neck is wrinkled, discolored, thick skin, which are the classic signs of chronic sun damage.

Other problems that can develop from overexposure to the sun include thinning of the skin as well as dilated blood vessels or “spider veins” just below the surface.  Millns said that tanning does help.  “It’s your body’s way of protecting itself from the sun.  Unfortunately, most people are only able to partially tan—so it’s not a perfect situation.  If you’re a skin Type-1 or 2, you will tan to some degree, but not enough to protect yourself very well from the effects of the sun. On the other hand, an individual who is deeply tanned, someone who gets “chestnut-brown” in the sun, wouldn’t get skin cancer right away, but may end up getting it by the age of 70 – rather than at 30 as a light skinned person will.”

What are some of the signs of problems for this kind of overexposure?  According to Dr. Millns, in addition to the yellowing of the skin and the spider veins, you might see sagging of the skin with profound wrinkling. “When you get to the pre-cancerous stage, you’re going to see what we call solar keratosis, which are little, crusty, scaly pink plaques that develop on the skin. They can be as small as one millimeter – or as big as a centimeter or two on the skin. Sometime you can just barely feel them by rubbing your finger across the skin, or they can be thicker and wart-like in texture. “

What can we do to mitigate these harmful solar effects?   Dr. Millns advises that the worst times of the day to be out in the sun would be between the hours of 10 and 4. “That’s when the intensity of the ultra-violet light is the greatest – and certainly, that’s when you’re going to need the most protection,”   Unfortunately, our ideal fishing times do not necessarily coincide with when it is safest to be in the sun. So living and fishing here in Florida, we have to play by a different set of rules than you might up north.
In addition, Dr. Millns said that even if you’re fishing with clouds overhead, you still can receive enough sun exposure to get a sunburn – depending on your skin type.

We’ve all heard a lot about developing skin cancer from overexposure to the sun. But how curable is that? The kind of skin cancer we commonly see is what Dr. Millns calls basil cell carcinoma. “There are probably more than a million new cases every year here in the United States. Fortunately, basil cell carcinomas don’t spread internally. They are very slow growing, and relatively easy to take care of.  In the very early stages, one might get the superficial basil cell carcinoma type, which can oftentimes be treated with a cream. Probably the most common treatment is a procedure where we simply burr and scrape them off the skin. They can also be removed by just shaving it right off the skin.  We also check the margins of the basil cell carcinoma during removal so as to minimize any recurrence.  “

“Then there are more severe types of skin cancer which are the squamous cell carcinoma, and the more aggressive malignant melanoma. Both of these cancers can spread internally. The malignant melanoma are the dark pigmented ones that can  arise out of a mole on the skin, which turns black or gets irregular looking. “

What are some recommendations for minimizing damage from the sun?  “What gets all the press are the sun screens and sun blocks.  But the problem with these products is they are expensive and not perfect. They need to be re-applied at least every two hours to be effective,“ he said.

“Protective clothing has come a long way over the years, with a number of really good sun protective items designed specifically for fishing.  Several different kinds of fabrics have been developed which have excellent sun-protective capabilities. Most are lighter and much more comfortable to wear even in our warmer summer Florida fishing conditions. Wearing the appropriate attire can go a long way to mitigate the harmful effects of ultra-violet and infra-red radiation.”

Dr. Millns also highly recommends long sleeve shirts and protective hats, because, he said “the majority of the cancers we see are in the forearms and on the face. The new high SPF rated shirts are generally light and comfortable. Special hats as well as gloves can also be very important in protections for all of these areas and are now widely available.”

That typical ‘baseball cap’ that most of us wear fishing is not a very good idea. “Many clothing manufacturers have come out with a great selection of fishing hats that flop down over the ears and back of the neck. They really offer a great deal of protection when standing out on the deck of a boat for four or five hours fishing. That’s when the sun can do great damage,” he said.  “And don’t forget that much of the ultra-violet rays are reflected up from the water, the sandy beach or the deck of a boat. So while the appropriate head cover protects from above, you still need to apply the sun screen to keep your skin safe from the rays reflected from below.”