American history buffs know the sad but true story of William Henry Harrison’s short tenure as President. Mr. Harrison chose not to wear a hat to his inauguration; he caught pneumonia and died within the month. Twenty or so years ago – sometime during the Reagan administration – I created a hangtag for our stores that read “Hats Are Healthy”. By it, I meant not against the cold but rather against the harmful effects of the sun. I quoted two agencies (see the tag at the Great Hats For the Great Outdoors page at our site). I was ambivalent about these tags because on the one hand, I wanted to call people’s attention to the need to put on sunscreen and wear hats (and other protective clothing), but on the other, I felt guilty profiting from fear. Furthermore, our hat business had been successful because our stores were fun and although the “hats are healthy” message was valid, I didn’t want to overemphasize it. (An atmosphere of a serious clinic was an unproven model for a successful hat shop.) In any case, I figured that in short order most people would get the message anyway and be wearing hats, along with sunscreen, and therefore, calling attention to headwear as protective clothing would soon be as unnecessary as calling attention to the merits of sunscreen.
Two decades have passed since that hangtag. I go out and about in life as we know it and the fact of the matter is that most people are still not getting the message – not wearing hats. And I live in San Diego – where there’s lots of sun. So here’s the current data: The National Cancer Institute estimates that in 2007 there will be more than 1,000,000 new cases of skin (non-melanoma) cancer in the United States and less than 2,000 deaths. NCI also estimates 59,940 new cases of melanoma (a form of skin cancer that begins in melanocytyes – the cells that make the pigment melanin) in 2007. Of those, NCI estimates 8,110 deaths. When asked about the effectiveness of sunscreens in preventing cancer, Dr. Kenneth Kraemer, a dermatologist researching skin cancer for NCI’s Center for Cancer Research replied, “Sun protection is more than sunscreens. Sun protection includes avoiding the sun, using clothing to protect yourself, getting shade under a tree if you are going outside, and wearing hats”.