Utah has one of the highest rates of skin cancers and melanomas in the USA. Several factors account for this — and only one is preventable.
The vast majority of Utah residents come from European descent. Most early Utah immigrants from the late 1800s to the early 1900s came from Northern Europe as well as other places like Canada and Australia. More than 85 percent of Utahns are Caucasian or white, and people with lighter skin are more vulnerable to sun damage. Dark skin is attributed to the abundance of melanin and light or pale skin to the lack thereof. The melanin in the skin blocks harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. While lighter skin does make people vulnerable, darker skin doesn’t make you immune. Certain products, particularly sunscreen, can reduce or minimize your vulnerability to UV, but this requires constant applications every time you go out into the sun.
Utah’s slogan of Life Elevated may be a good description of living in Utah, but the elevation is one of the reasons residents are more vulnerable to skin cancer. UV gets more concentrated with height, going up by 6-7 percent for every 1,000 feet of elevation, meaning an additional 24-28 percent for Salt Lake City residents and an alarming 42-49 percent more for Park City residents. Higher concentrations of UV means a higher chance of sun damage as well as stronger cumulative effects of chronic UV exposure. Just a single sunburn can multiply your risk of developing skin cancer, and higher concentrations of UV means the sun can damage your skin in significantly less time.
Utah’s outdoor culture and its residents’ active lifestyle make Utahns one of the healthiest people in the nation when it comes to obesity and diabetes. However, this love of the outdoors also means prolonged exposure to the sun. While sunblock can mitigate the harmful effects of the sun, almost everyone believes sun protection is only needed when you go outside. Most people disregard or are simply unaware that chronic UV exposure in their own house or in while driving can cause significant damage and raise their risk of skin cancer. Utahns usually favor large residential windows that let in natural light and harmful UV rays. Your short daily commute to work may seem safe, but it exposes you to significant amounts of UV radiation. In both cases, UV filtering film can minimize the effects of UV exposure. UV filtering film blocks up to 99 percent of UV radiation. Auto repair shops usually offer UV filtering service for your car, and you can avail of residential UV tinting services from specialized glassmakers or dedicated window tinting companies. UV film can be colorless, so you don’t have to worry about changing the look of your car or your residence.
You can’t change your genetics, you can’t just move out of the state. But you can certainly limit your UV exposure by avoiding the sun, using sunscreen, and taking measures to ensure your safety in your own home.