Millions of North Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. Melanoma skin cancer, though the most deadly, is curable when it is detected in its early stages, so it is important to be observant and diligent about sun protection. Avoiding the UVA/UVB rays from the sun and from tanning booths are the best ways to help avoid developing skin cancer.
As we go into the summer months with higher sun exposure, let’s review some good habits to minimize your risk of developing skin cancer.
1. This summer, plan your day so that you minimize peak hours of direct sunlight between 10am to 4pm. Enjoy your outdoor plans in the early morning and in the few hours before sunset. If you are outdoors during peak hours, stay in the shade and wear sunscreen and the appropriate clothing as mentioned further below. You can still enjoy patios, picnics, sports, family time at the park, and all the good things that the warmer season brings. Just enjoy them at a time where you can also enjoy having peace of mind that you are avoiding the hours that are most likely to cause sun damage.
2. Find protective clothing that you love wearing. Linen pants, open cotton button-ups over a tank top, and long cotton-blend skirts are good staples that will protect your arms and legs from harmful sun exposure. Broad-brimmed hats help shield your face and neck, and sunglasses that block UVA/UVB rays protect your eyes. Don’t forget that UVA/UVB rays can reflect off of water, cement and snow. They can also reach you through clouds and windows, so stay safe on cloudy days and indoors as well.
3. Those of you who know to avoid extensive exposure to the sun may be in the habit of going to the tanning salons for another way of getting your desired summer color. It is important to be aware that tanning beds also exposes you to UV rays, and are proven to put you at risk for cancer. Talk to a dermatologist and/or health professional about healthier alternatives, such as approved tanning sprays, creams, or other products.
4. You can mark in your calendar to go see your doctor once a year (either before or after the summer season, depending on whether you would like to go over the best protection plan before summer, or to check your skin after summer, especially if you want to see if there is any change in moles. You can also take photos of your moles before and after summer to have an image reference.
5. To be proactive, it is also a good idea to do a self examination of your skin once a month. Check your body from head to toe to take note of the condition of your skin, and to pay attention to any changes in moles, skin texture, or other marks or abnormalities. When you do an overview of your skin, do so in a well-lit room and use a full-length mirror and a hand mirror to make sure you’re not missing any blind spots. If you have a spouse, you can assist each other to check your backs.
6. Finally, buy new sunscreen every year and do not use expired products. Use a daily face moisturizer with minimum SPF 20, and a sunscreen of minimum 30. Use products that state on the label that they give Broadband UVA/UVB protection. Apply generously to your skin at least 30 minutes before going out so that the sunscreen has time to absorb into your skin. Reapply every few hours, and immediately following swimming or heavy perspiration.
We hope you will find that these tips are very doable once you get into the habit. Have a happy and healthy summer by taking care of your skin. It is the largest organ of your body, and needs your good care. Remind yourself and those around you that sun protection is part of your regular health routine.