Summer is here, which means it’s the perfect time to get outdoors to have some fun. As you enjoy those fun moments, however, don’t forget to protect your skin – especially with the more intense summer sun.
Does this mean you have to skip all those fun events? Absolutely not--but you should be aware of the risks the sun poses to unprotected skin.
According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Current estimates are that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives. This includes an estimated 4.3 million basal cell carcinoma cases (the most common form of skin cancer) and more than 1 million cases of squamous cell carcinoma (the second most common form of skin cancer). It is also estimated that more than 9,000 Americans will die in 2018 from melanoma – the least common, yet most dangerous type of skin cancer. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun significantly increases your risk of developing skin cancer.
Fortunately, it's not difficult, expensive, or time-consuming to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. By following these tips for skin cancer prevention -- this summer and year-round -- you can have the summer fun you crave without the worry.
1. Cover Up
Covering your skin is the most effective way that you can protect your skin from the ultraviolet rays of the sun. A bathing suit cover, a hat with a wide brim, and UV-filtering sunglasses can go a long way when it comes to basic sun protection. Better yet, wear sun-protection clothing. This is clothing made from fabric that blocks UV rays. Sun protection clothing is labeled with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating ranging from 15 (good) to 50+ (excellent.) If you don’t have appropriate sun protection clothing for things like jogging or running errands, the American Cancer Society recommends wearing dark clothing rather than lighter ones to help protect your skin from UV rays. Tightly woven fabric can also help protect better than loosely woven clothing.
2. Slather On
The sunscreen, of course. Although spray sunscreen is easy to apply, it is hard to see if it has been applied adequately. This is why we recommend using a sunscreen cream, which makes it easier to see you’ve fully covered the necessary areas. Sunscreen sticks are a good option for around the eyes.
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends using SPF 30 or higher for extended or intense sun exposure, however, experts agree there's no significant benefit to applying a sunscreen rated higher than SPF 50. SPF refers to a sunscreen's ability to filter harmful UVB rays that cause sunburns. Ideally, choose a sunscreen marked "broad-spectrum" because it also filters UVA rays, which are responsible for premature aging.
Be sure to apply enough sunscreen (two tablespoons, roughly the amount a shot glass holds) to cover the body sufficiently. Apply it 15 minutes before you go outside, so your skin has time to absorb it. Then, reapply every couple of hours, more often if you're sweating or swimming.
Keep in mind that the sun’s rays can still reach us on cloudy days and during routine activities like driving, so it’s a good idea to put on sunscreen as often as possible. Altitude is also important to consider. If you live in the mountains, it’s even easier to get sunburned in a shorter time than when you’re at a lower altitude.
3. Watch the Clock
The sun's rays are most intense between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm If you can schedule your outdoor activities for mornings and late afternoons, you'll reduce UV exposure, and you'll probably find it more pleasant to be outside. If you do happen to be outdoors during the peak time, try to find shade. Another smart way to determine when you should avoid the sun is to check the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's UV Index forecast here.
4. Examine Your Skin
No one is more familiar with your body than you are. Taking the time to conduct skin self-examinations on a regular basis, gives you the ability to spot changes that could be cancerous or precancerous. Don’t forget about the hard-to-see spots like your back, scalp, tops of your ears or eyelids. Ask a friend or family member if they wouldn’t mind taking a look at those areas for you, so that no spots are missed. As it is with many types of cancer, when identified early, skin cancer can be treated successfully, with fewer lasting side effects. The longer it remains undetected, the deeper the surgery will go to remove the skin cancer and the area around it. That can lead to scarring or additional surgeries with a plastic surgeon. If the cancer is left without any detection it could develop into cancer that can lead to death.
There is no need to fear the sun -- it’s actually good for you! Sunlight produces vitamin D, which is essential for optimal health. Research indicates that not getting enough vitamin D can increase the risks of several serious diseases, including some cancers. Sunlight is also believed to be a mood-booster -- who can argue with that? However, it’s necessary to enjoy it in moderation after taking the necessary precautions to protect your skin.
If you notice any changes in your skin, it’s best to visit your doctor or dermatologist. Compass Oncology has 5 locations in Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA -- if your provider determines a referral is needed.