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Sun Protection: A Universal Perspective

Armand Coppotelli
May 12, 2015

sunscreen-outdoor-workersAs part of its commitment to skin care and protecting workers worldwide, every year Deb launches its annual Sun Protection for Outdoor Workers Campaign, focusing on the prevalence of skin cancer amongst outdoor workers and highlighting the importance of sun protection in the workplace. The prevalence of skin cancer is on the rise and not just in the U.S. and North America, but worldwide. The World Health Organization has confirmed that the incidence of both non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers has been increasing over the past several decades. Currently, between 2 and 3 million skin cancers occur globally each year. One in every three cancers diagnosed is a skin cancer, and more than 65,000 people worldwide die from melanoma each year.  Additionally, skin cancer accounts for nearly 50% of all cancers combined.1


Skin Cancer: Back to the Basics A fundamental factor in skin cancer prevention is a strong understanding of the problem. Particularly during the warm and sunny spring and summer months, the topic of skin cancer surfaces quite frequently; but are we truly knowledgeable about skin cancer, including the main causes and steps needed for prevention? Outdoor workers and employers alike should take a few minutes to review the basics.


According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is “the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. It occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells triggers mutations, or genetic defects, that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors.” Much of the damage to DNA in skin cells results from ultraviolet (UV) radiation found in sunlight. This damage from the sun can happen years before a cancer develops.


There are two primary forms of skin cancer, melanoma and non-melanoma. The most common form of skin cancer is non-melanoma, including basal cell cancer (deep tissue damage) and squamous cell cancer (small rough spots that grow on sun-damaged skin). Approximately 90% of all non-melanoma skin cancer is caused by UV exposure. Melanoma is the least common form of skin cancer, but the most aggressive. In the U.S. alone, one person dies of melanoma every 57 minutes1 and an estimated 73,870 new cases of invasive melanoma will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 20151. Like many cancers, skin cancers start as precancerous lesions. These precancerous lesions are changes in skin that are not cancer, but can become cancer over time. For this reason, it is so important to know the signs and symptoms so you and your workers can be prepared.


Workers must check their skin regularly for any unusual moles or spots. The ABCDE rule of melanoma will help remind workers what to look out for. A melanoma can grow anywhere on the body so it is important to check your entire body regularly, about once a month, for any changes or abnormalities.


A = ASYMMETRY – When half of the mole does not match the other half B = BORDER – When the borders of the mole are irregular, ragged or blurred C = COLOR – When the color of the mole varies throughout or there is no uniform pigmentation D = DIAMETER – When the diameter is greater than 6mm, but it could be smaller E = EVOLVING – Changes in the mole over time; weeks, months or years.


Fortunately, malignant melanoma is curable if found and treated early.  A delay in diagnosis can result in the malignant melanoma spreading to other spots and organs within the body. If workers have any of the above signs or symptoms, they should consult a doctor immediately.


No two workers are created equal

Outdoor workers, particularly construction workers, are at a very high risk of damaging sun exposure. However, other high-risk targets include horticultural, forestry, telecommunications, maritime, postal and road workers. Based on a field study conducted in Australia, construction workers can be exposed to 10 times the recommended daily UV exposure levels. It is important that outdoor workers understand the risks of sun and UV exposure and know the steps to minimize their risk. Workers should execute safe sun practices like covering up in the summer months, taking breaks in the shade, using sunscreen and drinking plenty of water.


Even though outdoor workers are at a high risk for developing skin cancer, it is important to note that no two workers are the same. Age, ethnicity, family history and other conditions can play a factor in the development of skin cancer. Those with fair skin, a family history of skin cancer, a weakened immune system, existing skin conditions and those that come in contact with certain chemicals (such as coal tar, soot, pitch, creosote, mineral oil, motor oil and shale oil) are all at an increased risk of developing skin cancer. Skin cancer can develop in those of any age, but as workers get older, increasing their time spent in the sun, there is more time for built-up sun damage to the skin, increasing the likelihood. Additionally, although the risk of developing skin cancer is rather low for most African Americans, Asians and Latinos, skin cancer is typically more deadly for these groups. 2  


Sunscreen Best Practices

When time spent in the sun cannot be avoided, having a good understanding of sunscreen protection is crucial. Sunscreens of at least SPF 30 are recommended and should be labeled broad spectrum to protect against both UV-A (aging) & UV-B (burning) rays. Sunscreens with a higher SPF rating may block slightly more UV rays, but remember no sunscreen can offer 100% protection. Sunscreen should be applied to clean, dry skin 15 to 20 minutes before sun exposure and reapplied every two to three hours. Additionally the proper amount of sunscreen for an adult full-body application is two to three tablespoons—or about one shot glass full. Make sure to cover all areas of exposed skin including the face, arms, top of the head and behind the ears.


Learn more about Sun Protection for Outdoor Workers


There are very real dangers associated with sun exposure, particularly for outdoor workers; and unfortunately, these dangers are oftentimes overlooked in the workplace. Education is the key to prevention, and we hope that employers will work hard to educate themselves and put strategies and systems in place to protect their workers. Employers who have outdoor workers are encouraged to download Deb’s Manager's Guide and Poster for Skin Care at Work: Sun Protection for Workers. The guide will provide additional instructions on how to minimize your outdoor workers’ risk of sun exposure.


While exposure to the sun can never be completely avoided, knowing how to protect yourself from harm is important. Deb Group can help. As part of their new Deb Stoko Global Product Range, Deb offers a full range of Sun Protect products. For more information, visit






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