Later this month we’ll gather around the grill and stick our toes in the chilly pool water to mark the unofficial start of summer. But as we enter the season of swimsuits and sunbathing, organizations like the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF) and the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) have a few words of caution.
According to the SCF, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime – and most of those cases can be linked directly to sun exposure.
“About 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers and 65 percent of melanoma cases are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun,” says Perry Robins, MD, President of The Skin Cancer Foundation. “Everyone, regardless of skin color, should make staying safe in the sun a priority and incorporate sun protection measures into their daily life.”
To reduce your risk of skin cancer, follow these recommendations:
- Seek the shade. It’s particularly important to avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest. If you can’t stay in the shade, make sure you’re covered with clothing and sunscreen.
- Do not burn. Your risk for melanoma doubles if you’ve had five or more sunburns in your life.
- Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths. That “healthy glow” isn’t healthy at all. Whether the UV radiation is coming from the sun or bulbs in a tanning bed, it’s dangerous. Just four visits to a tanning bed per year can increase your risk of melanoma by 11% and increase your risk for the two most common forms of skin cancer by 15%.
- Cover up. Use clothing (long sleeves and pants when possible), a broad-brimmed hat, and UV-blocking sunglasses to cover up. If you’re going to be outside and uncovered, make sure you apply broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher at least half an hour before going outside. Reapply often, and immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Keep newborns out of the sun. You can use sunscreen on babies as young as six months old, but they should also be protected by shade and clothing. Children are extra sensitive to UV radiation and just one severe sunburn at a young age doubles the chances of developing melanoma later in life.
- Examine your skin. The SCF encourages everyone to see a physician for an annual professional skin exam, but you’ll also want to keep an eye on your skin between appointments. The AAD has a helpful guide describing how to check your skin, complete with the warning signs you’ll want to note (asymmetry, irregular border, color variation, diameter over 6mm, or a change in size, shape, or color). If you’re concerned about your skin, talk to your physician or dermatologist.