Gardeners work long hours, often outside in the sun during peak exposure hours. Repeated exposure to the sun can cause skin damage and certain cancers. Skin damage can include dark spots, irregular pigmentation and wrinkles. Long-term exposure and repeated damage can lead to melanoma, a dangerous form of skin cancer. Damage typically occurs through progressive exposure over several years.
Limiting exposure, dressing appropriately and applying sunscreen can reduce the chances of skin damage and disease. Take greater precautions against sun exposure if you:
• Have a history of skin cancer.
• Have a lot of freckles or moles.
• Burn easily or have a fair complexion.
• Have blonde or red hair.
• Have blue, green or gray eyes.
A common misconception is that people with darker complexions are not at risk for skin cancer, because they do not easily sunburn. While it is true that people with darker complexions are more naturally protected from damage (melanin blocks UV rays) than those with lighter complexions, everyone can experience skin damage from prolonged exposure. Prolonged exposure and repeated damage can lead to certain forms of skin cancer and, if left unchecked, can be deadly.
Facts About UV Rays
Although they affect the skin in different ways, both UVA and UVB rays have been linked to skin cancer.
Watching for Skin Cancer
Check any skin spot that spontaneously bleeds, changes color or changes size. For anyone working outside in the sun, it is important to check the skin on a regular basis for visible signs of skin cancer. For answers to questions about the possibility of skin cancer, consult a doctor.
When checking yourself for skin cancer, look for these physical signs:
• Asymmetrical spots.
• Irregular borders.
• Color variations.
• Diameters bigger than the end of a pencil eraser.
To minimize the risk of skin damage or cancer, follow these basic recommendations:
• Schedule outdoor work in the early morning or late afternoon. Stay shaded and avoid sun exposure between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m, when the sun is hottest.
• Add a shade canopy to the driver’s seat when operating a mower or other unprotected vehicle.
• Put up a collapsible tent if working outside in one location for an extended period of time.
• Perform equipment repairs and maintenance in an indoor worksop rather than outside, if possible.
• Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more while working outside. Reapply every two hours or more, if needed.
• Wear a wide-brimmed hat or cap with a flap. Baseball caps do not protect the ears, temples or neck.
• Wear sunglasses that wrap around the head to block as many rays as possible.
• Wear protective clothing such as long sleeves, long pants, socks and gloves.
Sun protection using a hat, sunglasses and protective clothing.
Reviewer: Kent McGuire, CFAES Safety and Health Coordinator, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering