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Is the sun an occupational hazard?

By The Health News Team | July 1, 2021
Worker with hard hat

When we think of dangerous jobs, logging and mining usually come to mind. Here in San Diego, one of the biggest risks is also one of the reasons we love living here: the sun. Construction workers, lifeguards, dog walkers and anyone who works outside all need to understand the relationship between sun and skin.

Sunlight contains two kinds of ultraviolet rays: UVA and UVB. UVA reflects off sand, water and concrete, and is 100 times more powerful than UVB. According to Dr. Robert Power, an occupational medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, several things happen to skin when it’s exposed to these ultraviolet rays.

“Unprotected exposure to the sun will tan, burn and dry out your skin, and eventually create wrinkles and loose skin. Over time, that sun damage may turn into skin cancer,” he says.

Dr. Power says there are effective ways for people who work outdoors to protect themselves:

  1. Wear SPF clothing — clothing with sun protection built into the fabric

  2. Wear a hat that provides shade over the face and neck

  3. Use sunscreen — a lot of it and repeatedly, remembering to cover these sensitive areas

“There are essentially two types of sunscreen. The first is UV absorbing. Select one that is SPF 30 or higher. If you sweat while you are working or are a lifeguard who goes in the water, select a waterproof sunscreen. The other type is a bit retro but provides excellent protection. These are opaque sunscreens such as zinc oxide,” says Dr. Power.

The type of sunscreen you choose depends on your job or activity. However, no sunscreen is foolproof. If you do get burned, Dr. Power recommends a cool shower, drinking plenty of fluids, taking ibuprofen or another over-the-counter pain reliever, and applying aloe vera gel, which is cooling and promotes healing.

“If your sunburn is severe, please contact your doctor or occupational medicine provider. A severe sunburn can cause a fever, blistering or nausea, so getting professional care will help ease those symptoms,” says Dr. Power.

And don’t forget your eyes. Dr. Power encourages anyone who works outside to invest in optical quality sunglasses that screen for ultraviolet and infrared light.

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