On a sunny summer day, people often head to the pool, go on a picnic with family or participate in other leisure activities.

Some people work outside for an extended period of time.

In these cases, there’s one thing you shouldn’t forget — sunscreen.

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Fifteen to 30 minutes before going out in the sun, you should apply sunscreen, said Dr. Christopher Bunce, public health officer with the Jackson County Health Department. Then it should be reapplied every two hours when staying out in the sun.

“A sunburn never, ever goes away,” Bunce said. “You think it does, but it doesn’t. It stays with you for the rest of your life, and it can damage your skin.”

Bunce delivered that message to a group of young boys and girls taking swimming lessons through Girls Inc. of Jackson County on Wednesday morning at Shields Park Pool in Seymour.

The Scott County Health Department recently received a semitrailer load of boxes of sunscreen and offered them to nine surrounding county health departments.

Lin Montgomery, public health coordinator-educator with the Jackson County Health Department, picked up 50 boxes, each containing 12 bottles of sunscreen.

They decided to first hand them out to children.

“As long as the supply lasts, we want to target an at-risk population, and Dr. Bunce felt that children that come to the pool unsupervised may not always pack what they need. We wanted to make sure that it was available for them,” Montgomery said.

“The most important time in your life to wear sunscreen and protect your skin is right now when you’re young because this is the time when the sun can do the most damage,” Bunce told the kids.

Epidemiologic studies show that it’s your childhood sunburn — how often you’ve been sunburned as a child — that is a predictor of skin cancer of all types later on in life, he said.

“Intervention in young people is by far the most important thing we can do,” he said.

Montgomery and Bunce also gave some sunscreen to a construction crew working Wednesday in Seymour. They plan to continue handing it out to different groups until the supply runs out.

Bunce said one focus for the health department is skin cancer awareness and the damage the sun can do to your skin and eyes.

Each year in the United States, nearly 5 million people are treated for skin cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One of the three types of skin cancer, melanoma, is potentially fatal. In the last 25 years, it has become the fastest-growing preventable cancer in the world, Bunce said.

In 1990, there were 2.2 cases of melanoma per 100,000 people in the United States per year. Now, that rate is 22 cases per 100,000 people per year.

“Melanoma is also very curable if caught early enough when the tumor has not spread down into the skin very far. When it’s very thin and it’s cut out, it’s curable at that stage,” Bunce said.

“However, often, the moles or the little dark lesions are not recognized, and sometimes, it spreads,” he said. “Once is spreads to the lymph nodes or the wide parts of the body, it is perhaps controllable but not considered curable.”

The other two types of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma, are especially treatable, Bunce said.

“Those are generally just locally invasive,” he said. “Very rarely, they will spread to the lymph nodes, but they are almost always minimal to surgery or to just removing or burning, depending on how early it is.”

There also are precancerous lesions that a physician can identify through a body check, Bunce said.

People with lots of freckles, a history of sunburn or a family history of melanoma probably should have their skin examined by a physician after age 30, he said.

“The skin cancer doesn’t set in in childhood. It sets in later on in life most often,” he said. “But they are occurring earlier and earlier. We’re seeing people in their 30s, late 20s with melanoma, which that was very uncommon before. It’s because sun exposure or tanning bed exposure started much earlier in life.”

All forms of skin cancer can be prevented by using sunscreen, Bunce said.

When using sunscreen, he said it’s important to apply enough. A person wearing a bathing suit should put on at least 1½ ounces, and then reapply every two hours while out in the sun.

Sunscreen has to at least be 15 SPF. Bunce recommends 30 and above.

“The whole idea really is there’s no reason to not use the highest number if you have it because if you misapply or you don’t apply thickly enough, it’s got your back a little bit more,” he said.

Limiting your hours in the sun and wearing a hat or sunglasses also are recommended to protect yourself, Bunce said.

At a glance

Tips for staying safe in the sun

Seek shade, especially during midday hours. This includes 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March through October and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. November through February. Umbrellas, trees or other shelters can provide relief from the sun.

Be extra careful around surfaces that reflect the sun’s rays, like snow, sand, water and concrete.

Wear sun protection gear, like a hat with a wide brim and sunglasses, to protect your face and eyes.

Sunglasses protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays and reduce the risk of cataracts and other eye problems. Wrap-around sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection by blocking UV rays from the side.

Wear a long-sleeved shirt and pants or a long skirt for additional protection when possible. If that’s not practical, try wearing a T-shirt or a beach cover-up.

Apply a thick layer of broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher at least 15 minutes before going outside, even on cloudy or overcast days. Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours and after swimming, sweating or toweling off.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.