Bayfest. ACUA’s Earth Day. Girls Weekend.

These three events have three things in common.

First, they are in April. Second, they are all designed to get you outside as the warmer weather arrives. And while the third may not be something you’d consider this time of year, it can have serious consequences — sunburn.

The days of tanning oil and sun reflectors are mostly over. However, the data on melanoma and sunburns are mixed.

According the American Cancer Society, cases of melanoma of the skin increased from about 7 per 100,000 men and 8 per 100,000 women in 1975 to 33 per 100,000 men and 16 per 100,000 women in 2014 (adjusted for the 2000 U.S. standard population).

Trends in incidence rates, 1975-2014

Image via the American Cancel Society.

The numbers were not as high when it came to New Jersey. The melanoma prevalence rate for New Jersey was 21.9 per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That rate puts New Jersey in the lower half of the 50 states. Furthermore, the percentage of adults who said they had a sunburn fell from 23.9 percent in 2011 to 17.8 percent in 2015, according to New Jersey State Health Assessment Data reports.

“The younger generation is so much more aware of the impacts of the sun than older generations,” New Jersey Climatologist Dave Robinson said.

As the sun rises higher in the sky with each passing spring day, the risk of sunburn grows.

“According to the World Health Organization, if the UV Index is at a 3 or higher, sun protection in needed,” said Dawn Holman, of the CDC.

A number of 3-5 is considered “moderate” on the UV Index scale. The average during the month of April? Moderate, the same as it is during August, when many of us slap on the sunscreen religiously.

“You really have to start paying attention to sunburn in late March, after the spring equinox,” Robinson said.

The sun’s angle confirms this. In the first days of April, the sun angle is 55 degrees, the same as in mid-September. When the month ends, it is like mid-August.

Sunburn occurs when the body’s natural defense mechanism against the sun’s ultraviolet rays is overwhelmed. The causes a toxic reaction, resulting in the red spots we unfortunately see.

Robinson suggests sunburn comes by surprise because our eyes do not see the ultraviolet spectrum. Therefore, we cannot sense how much the sun’s rays are impacting our bodies. This is especially the case in March and April, when we are not in the mindset of being out in the sun on a daily basis.

Even days without much sun can burn you in the spring months.

“Although clouds filter out some UV radiation, a person can still get sunburned on cloudy and cool days,” Holman said.

As the days warm up even more, we start to journey from the land to the water yet again, renewing the need to be sunburn aware.

“Water is an interesting feature. When the sun is directly overhead, the water is less reflective. When it’s lower in the sky, the sun is more reflective in the direction opposite to where the sun is positioned,” Robinson added.

New Jersey’s bright beaches make us feel the burn ever more.

“The coarse beach sands of New Jersey are twice as reflective as a green, grassy field,” Robinson said.

“The CDC encourages everyone to plan before outdoor activities and make sun protection a part of their routine. Stay in the shade, especially during midday hours. Also, use a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher,” Holman stated.

The UV Index for the day is reported on the back of the World section of The Press.


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