Sunscreen Isn’t Just for the Beach
Because of this, you most likely apply sunscreen when you are heading to the beach or plan to spend a summer day in the sun. But, do you apply sunscreen during the winter or when it is overcast? If you are like many people, the answer is probably “no.”
Skin Cancer Is More Common than You Realize
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), skin cancer (specifically melanomas of the skin) is the most common cancer in the United States. In fact, in 2007 (the most recent year of compiled data), more than 58,000 US residents were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin and 8,400 died from melanomas.
How the Sun’s Rays Affect Your Skin
The sun emits ultraviolet (UV) radiation through ultraviolet A (UVA) rays and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.
UVA rays are not affected by weather or season and are strong enough to penetrate some clothing and glass. UVA rays penetrate deeper into your skin and are typically responsible for wrinkles, leathery skin, sun spots, and other forms of age-related damage.
UVB rays may be more prevalent in the summer months, but can still affect you year round, especially due to their ability to reflect off of snow and water. Although a large dose of UVA rays can cause cancer, UVB rays are typically responsible for skin cancers.
Protect Yourself from the Sun
The best way to reduce your chances of getting cancer from the sun’s ultraviolet rays is to limit your sun exposure. However, even 15 minutes of sun exposure can put you at risk, so it is important to take precautions when you are outdoors.
The National Cancer Institute recommends that you:
- Avoid, when possible, outdoor activities when the sun’s rays are the strongest (between 10am and 4pm).
- Wear long sleeves and pants made from tightly woven materials.
- Seek shade, when possible, and wear a large-brimmed hat and sunglasses to minimize your sun exposure.
- Use broad-spectrum sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.
Sunscreen and Its Proper Use
Many people apply sunscreen when they are going to be in the sun for an extended period of time, but do not remember to reapply it. Contrary to popular belief, sunscreen is not an all-day solution, but should be reapplied throughout the day.
Here are other important tips you should follow about sunscreen:
- Be sure your sunscreen protects against both UVA rays and UVB rays.
- Look for a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. Higher SPF numbers provide greater protection.
- Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure and reapply it every two hours (more frequently if you go in the water or are excessively perspiring).
- Protect your lips from sun exposure with lip balm that contains sunscreen (with minimum SPF of 15).
- Use sunscreen daily – even on overcast days since UV rays can penetrate cloud cover.
- If applicable, try to use cosmetics that contain sunscreen (15 SPF minimum) for added protection each day.
Even with Sunscreen, Watch for Sun Damage
Sunscreen can reduce your risk of sun damage – including aging of the skin and cancer – but using sunscreen does not guarantee that you will not suffer skin damage from the sun.
The American Academy of Dermatology has developed an A-B-C-D-E guide for checking moles and pigmented spots on your skin. You should seek medical care if your moles or pigmented spots exhibit:
- Asymmetry – one half is unlike the other
- Border – an irregular or poorly defined border
- Color – has multiple colors or shades
- Diameter – 6mm (size of pencil eraser) or greater should be a concern
- Evolving – changes in size or shape
If you notice any of the above issues with a mole or if you notice other signs of sun damage, contact your medical professional for a consultation.
Also remember, sunny days at the beach are not the only times you need to protect yourself. Be sure to cover your skin and use sunscreen when outside for more than 15 minutes. This simple step can save you from skin damage.