If you've got pale skin, I'm sure that you had the importance of sunscreen repeated to you ad nauseam as a kid. I grew up in Southern California, and in summer, I couldn't step outside without being slathered in SPF 50. I'd be reminded every so often that my "nana" had orange, wrinkly skin because she didn't use sunscreen, a scare tactic meant to keep my skin delightfully healthy into old age.

Well, old age is creeping up slowly and I haven't become a golden raisin yet, but I've never forgotten how easily I burn. What I do forget is the sunscreen. To illustrate how bad I am at remembering sunscreen: I just bought a new sunscreen for summer vacation to replace my old one, which I bought over 10 years ago.

Despite the new sunscreen, I'm currently nursing a major sunburn, particularly on my arms and face, in part thanks to being stuck in traffic for 50 minutes during rush hour yesterday. I had no sunscreen on me, and so I baked in the afternoon sun with no protection. So I thought I'd look into how much Washington state suffers from sun damage, and I wasn't quite prepared for these results.

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#1. Washington has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the United States.

Yes, that's right: our lovely state that we associate with cool rains, cloudy days, and temperate northern climate is also one where skin cancer is one of the worst. Axios reported that per CDC data, Washington's rate of invasive melanoma is 20% higher than the national average - and that our state's rate of melanoma increases about 1.8% each year.

Since sunburn causes permanent damage to the skin that may lead to skin cancer, it's important to keep sunscreen available.

#2. Washington also has one of the highest death rates from melanoma in the US.

Per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington has an average of 175 melanoma deaths per year. While that may not seem sobering, consider this: every hour, one American dies of melanoma. It's important to protect our health, especially as our skin gets thinner as we age.

POC hands holding melanoma awareness ribbon
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#3. Melanoma is the 5th leading type of cancer in Washington.

The Washington Department of Health shares this sobering statistic, with a reminder that melanoma is the most deadly kind of skin cancer.

The good news is these deaths are preventable with early detection and treatment. Unfortunately, that means that Washington residents are lagging in awareness and treatment rates.

#4. The PNW forgets that skin damage can occur year-round.

UW Medicine dermatologist Dr. Tanya Greywal explains:

Many people in the PNW believe that they are less likely to develop skin cancers because it is not typically warm and sunny, especially throughout the winter months. However, UV radiation can still pass through clouds and cause skin damage.

This is compounded by the fact that many in the PNW love outdoors activities and thus spend a lot of time exposed to natural UV radiation. Dr. Greywal recommends SPF 30+ with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide along with other protective measures.

Girl spraying sunscreen at Washington state welcome sign
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#5. Sunscreen is so important in Washington that we have a law about it.

In 2017, Washington enacted RCW 28A.210.278 - more commonly referred to as the "student sun safety education act." This law guarantees that students and staff at any school grade K-12 can bring, use, and apply any over-the-counter sunscreen to school and school activities without needing a doctor's note.

If that seems wild to you, consider this: most states do not guarantee this protection to students, meaning that they can't bring sunscreen to school without an approved medical prescription or doctor's note. Now that's scary.

There are your reminders of why it's so important to wear sunscreen in Washington, even if that advice seems like the nattering advice of overprotective parents in the rearview mirror. Now I'm going to go apply more aloe to this sunburn, while remembering this classic:

6 Unique Remedies for Treating Sunburn

Chances are you have a bottle of aloe vera gel somewhere in your house that you've likely had for years ready to be applied when you've spent a little too much time out in the sun and your skin feels (and looks) like the surface of the sun. Maybe it's in a medicine cabinet or a bathroom closet. Maybe you keep it in the door of the refrigerator so it's good and cold to help ease the pain of sunburn a little quicker. While it's a great and highly recommended way to care for your skin after a sunburn, there are other options in your house that can also do the trick.

Gallery Credit: Ryan O'Bryan

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