More than one million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer every year, making it the most common form of cancer in the United States. Even more sobering, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime. There are several ways to help minimize the effects of the sun on your skin as well as help prevent long-term skin damage during the summer months. In honor of Skin Cancer Awareness Month, here are five tips for staying safe in the sun from Dr. Tina Alster, founding director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery.
Tip #1: Load up on sunscreens with SPF 30 or higher, regardless of your skin tone.
Because the three most common types of skin cancers (basal cell, squamous cell, melanoma) are related to cumulative sun exposure, protection of the skin from the sun is imperative (regardless of skin type). In fact, skin cancers have been reported in patients with naturally dark skin as well as pale skin, so just because someone tans (rather than burns) it doesn’t mean that skin cancer is not possible.
Tip #2: Apply... and Reapply.
While makeup and face moisturizers that contain SPF provide enough protection if you are only going to the office (with limited sun exposure), if outdoor activity is planned, these products will only suffice if ample amount is applied (e.g., at least a marble’s size for the face and a golf ball amount for the body). Frequent application of sunscreen is needed - at least every two hours if you’re outside. Most people don’t apply enough sunscreen to render themselves protected to the numerical amount printed on the bottle.
Tip #3: If you want a tanned look, apply self-tanners, bronzers, or go for a spray tan – don’t use tanning beds.
Most tanning booths claim to be safe because they emit UVA rays (not UVB rays) that don’t burn your skin. However, these same rays, while non-burning, are responsible for deeper dermal damage over time which contributes to wrinkles and skin cancer.
Tip #4: Stay out of the sun during peak midday hours (10 am to 2 pm), when the sun’s rays are strongest.
The strongest and most dangerous UV rays are emitted during mid-day. If your shadow appears to be shorter than you are, seek shade. When in the sun, wear a wide-brimmed hat to shade your face, ears and neck, a sleeved-shirt to cover your shoulders, and long pants. There are many lightweight and fashionable clothing lines available today designed to protect you in the sun.
Tip #5: Seek out an experienced practitioner for skin care advice and treatment.
Everyone should have their skin checked once a year by a dermatologist who specializes in skin cancer prevention and treatment. It’s critical that people do their homework to find someone who can provide the best care. There are several resources that provide helpful information and free cancer screenings. Avvo.com is a free website that offers ratings and reviews of all the doctors in the US, including dermatologists. In recognition of Skin Cancer Awareness Month, Avvo is donating $5 to the Melanoma Research Foundation for every question about skin cancer prevention and detection you leave on the site in the month of May. You can also visit ChooseSkinHealth.com to sign up for a free skin cancer screening at a dermatologist's office near you. You can also visit the AVEENO Facebook page to attend a free cancer screening on The Skin Cancer Foundation's Road to Healthy Skin Tour.