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June 19, 2012

Choosing Sunscreen

Serious sun protection is vital on the water when fishing

Hindsight is always 20/20. Growing up 45-odd years ago, I didn’t consider it officially summer until I suffered through a sunburn the shade of a boiled Maine lobster. But pain and blisters are inspirational — I finally wised up. Today a thorough coating of sunscreen is part of my ritual before I ever reach the water. My ears, nose and lips are on a first-name basis with zinc oxide. And I won’t set foot aboard a boat without a hat and polarized sunglasses.

Yet even with all that protection, I’m still cautious about the damaging effects of the sun. They’re one of the hazards of our sport. I recently talked to Dr. Pam Kennedy, a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, about how anglers can minimize the risks of skin cancer and premature aging. Kennedy earned her medical degree from the University of South Carolina and completed her dermatology residency at Texas Tech University. She has been practicing in Tallahassee, Florida, for the past 10 years and counts many avid anglers among
her patients.

“Complete avoidance of sun exposure at peak hours is ideal but not an easy task for anglers,” she explains. “For my patients who participate in activities where sun exposure is unavoidable, I like the Australian mantra ‘slip, slop and slap,’ or slip into sun-
protective clothing, slop on the sunblock and slap a hat on.”

Kennedy is a big fan of physical sunblocks versus chemical sunscreens. Her rationale? Most sunblocks use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to physically block the sun’s rays. Chemical sunscreens instead capture ultraviolet rays and convert them into heat to prevent impacts from the sun. Many different chemical ingredients are used in screens, and some can degrade, wash off or cause topical skin irritation or allergic reactions.

“Due to the wide variety of ingredients used in sunscreens, some can be less effective in blocking not only UVB (ultraviolet shortwave) rays, but also UVA (ultraviolet long-wave) waves,” Kennedy says. “However, I appreciate that I have angling patients who prefer chemical sprays and gels to liquid
mineral blocks, and as long as they’re absent irritaion, I don’t discourage them from using their preferred sunscreen.”

Last summer the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced several changes to sunscreen labels. Under the new rating system (enforcement is pending), screens can be labeled “broad spectrum” if they protect against both UVB and UVA rays. The previous system was based on the effectiveness of blocking UVB rays only. Screens with a sun protection factor (SPF) or laboratory effectiveness rating of 15 or higher can be advertised as reducing the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging when used as directed. But claims of “waterproof” or “sweatproof” are gone under the new system. Instead, the labels will specify the amount of time the product will last while the user is swimming or sweating.