SoCal League Tennis

California Sun and Skin Cancer

I remember very well being a school girl in Australia putting on my hat each day as a part of our mandatory school uniform.  We all knew the trouble we could get into with the school principal if we didn’t have the hat on while we were playing outside.  I also remember the sun cancer prevention campaigns of my childhood that were to be found everywhere you went.  The catchy slip, slop, slap that still has value today even several decades later.  The reminder to everyone to slip on a shirt, slop on your sunscreen and slap on a hat.  This is of course a serious necessity in Australia and it is becoming similarly so in the US.


The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that if trends continue here in America, then one in every five adults will suffer from some type of skin cancer at some point during their lifetime.

While we love our good weather here in Southern California we all know that with these sunny days comes the very real risk of harmful sun damage to our skin.  It goes beyond sun spots and wrinkles to serious skin damage to potentially lethal skin cancers.

We can still enjoy time on the court, time paddling in the ocean and sailing the Bay but in doing it, we all have to make a concerted effort to protect ourselves from the potential harm of too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Two years ago the Surgeon General put out a 100-page report on skin cancer and prevention citing it as a serious public health issue.  The report suggests that every year in the United States nearly 5 million people are treated for skin cancer, costing more than $8 billion.  The report goes on to say that Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, causes nearly 9,000 deaths a year.  Almost all the conditions were caused by one simple thing, unnecessary UV radiation exposure, usually from excessive time in the sun or the use of indoor tanning beds.

What this suggests is that most, but certainly not all sun damage can be prevented.  Without a doubt some genetic risk factors play into a person’s skin cancer risk.  That being said however we can do a lot to help minimize long term sun damage to our skin.  For example the CDC says that even one skin burning incident as a child can increase your risk of skin cancer two-fold by the time you are an adult.

We all want to get outside and we know there are several benefits in doing so.  We get essential Vitamin D, we get positive effects on our mood and wellbeing and we tend to be more active.  All of this can be achieved while using simple and effective strategies to keep us safe from the harmful impact of too much sun exposure.

I can recommend listening to a quick five minute podcast from the CDC which outlines the 3 types of skin cancer, what to look for and what to do to prevent the damage.

So let’s still get out there but with the commitment to keeping covered up and well protected.

Keep these things in mind for yourself and your family.

Cover your skin with clothing:

When possible wear a long sleeve shirt, with a high neck or a collar.  Dark colors and tighter woven fabrics offer more protection.  Cover your legs too with long pants or a skirt.  I know this sounds odd for a beach day but when you get in the habit it becomes pretty easy.  I have dark sarongs/perreros that I take to the beach and also have a couple of long pairs of soft dark linen pants that I wear to and from the beach or pool and when I’m on my bike.  On the court I wear long sleeves and make sure I have plenty of sunscreen on my hands, legs and face.  There are a lot of choices now with clothing that has UV protection built into the fabric and also gear that wicks away sweat so you are more comfortable with more clothing on.

Wear a Hat and Sunglasses:


Get into the habit of not leaving your house without a hat all year round in Southern California.  A wide-brimmed hat made of tightly woven fabric will offer the best protection.  If you like to wear a baseball style hat on the court then try to wear a collared shirt and cover all exposed areas like your ears and neck with sunscreen.  Sunglasses that can block out UVA (long-wave) and UVB (short-wave) rays will offer you extra eye protection.  Sunglasses are a must on the court and on the water.

Sit and Wait in the Shade:

Shade in and of itself is not a guarantee of protection but it does help.  If you take a break while switching to the other end of the court, do so in the shade.  If you are waiting for a bus, a lift or to get your favorite seat at a restaurant do so in the shade.

An umbrella, a tree or one of the many creative sun shades available today can provide you with some relief from hot weather and add to your sun protection.  Remember if you can see the sky through the tree or shelter then all UV radiation is not blocked.

Avoid Being in the Sun During the Middle of the Day

Bottom line try to avoid scheduling your tennis match between 10 and 2.  The CDC will go so far as to say that UV radiation is most intense during the midday hours of 10 am to 4 pm (daylight savings) and 9 am to 3 pm (standard time).  Now that reduces our game time significantly but the point is avoid the sun at its most intense wherever possible.  Think about going to the beach with your kids in the morning or later afternoon to avoid too much sun exposure.

Sunscreen is a Must

There are some basics about sunscreen to keep top of mind and to do every day.

  • Put your sunscreen on 30 minutes before you go outside.
  • Apply approximately 2 tablespoons of sunscreen to the entire body.
  • Sunscreen should have an SPF of 15 or higher to have any affect.
  • As the SPF increases the amount of protection increases.
  • Your sunscreen should have a broad spectrum protection which means it protects against both UVA and UVB radiation.
  • Reapply every two hours.
  • Reapply after swimming and excessive sweating. Your 3rd set might be a good time to reapply.

 Keep an Eye on your Skin:

One way to keep healthy with regard to your skin and the sun is to examine your skin regularly from head to toe.  Especially where we live it is not a bad idea to see your physician every year for a professional skin exam.

I encourage you to learn more about the risks and the steps you can take to keep you and your family protected while still enjoying all that Southern California has to offer.  I picked up a lot of good information from the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer report and from the CDC’s sun safety website.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer. Washington, DC: U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General; 2014.

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Photo by Jessie Pearl

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