With summer in full swing and the Fourth of July on the horizon, there is one item that should be in every Kentuckian’s pool bag, picnic basket and purse before heading outdoors — sunscreen.

Known for horses, bourbon and basketball, the Bluegrass State also ranks among the top 10 in the country for highest rate of skin cancer. In fact, Kentucky placed seventh with 28.7 new cases per 100,000 people, according to a report by QuoteWizard, which compiled the information from the latest figures by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Utah — with 41.2 cases — led the way, followed by Vermont, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Idaho and Delaware. Yes, you read that correctly. The states with the lowest amount of UV exposure have the highest number of cases of melanoma, which is caused by sunburns that damage the DNA of skin cells, causing new skin cells to grow out of control and become cancerous.

Experts believe the higher rate of skin cancer in the northern states is directly linked to the environment. Residents of warm southern states are used to sunny weather year-round and take daily precautions such as applying a broad spectrum SPF sunscreen, wearing ultraviolet-protectant (UV) clothing and hats when going outdoors. Sunglasses are also essential for eye protection from the sun.

The report also found that men, with 28.4 new cases per 100,000, are considerably more likely to be affected by melanoma than women, with 17.7 new cases. In fact, a survey conducted by the CDC found fewer than 15% of men said they used sunscreen compared to about 30% of women.

The sun’s UV rays can damage skin in as little as 15 minutes, which is why the CDC recommends using at least an SPF 30 sunscreen and reapplying every two hours and after swimming, sweating or toweling off.

No matter your outdoor plans this summer, be prepared to protect your body’s largest organ — your skin — or you’re bound to get burned.

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