Unless you’ve had your head in the sand then you may have heard that the sun’s rays are bad for the skin and can can cause skin cancer. Here are ten ways to protect yourself.
1. Whenever possible, stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest. Try to schedule outdoor activities for the early morning or late afternoon, and try to stay in the shade as much as possible if you must be out in the sun in the middle of the day.
2. If you must go out into the midday sun, wear clothing that protects you from the sun. This means a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and a broad-brimmed hat that protects your head and ears and shades your face. Some clothing blocks the sun’s rays while others do not. Dark-colored, heavyweight, tightly woven fabrics provide better protection from the sun than light-colored, lightweight, loosely woven fabrics do. If you must spend a lot of time out in the sun, you may want to buy special sun-protective clothing with a high UPF rating. The UPF rating (the letters stand for Ultraviolet Protection Factor) indicates how much ultraviolet light can penetrate the clothing. For example, if a piece of clothing has a UPF rating of 20, that means that only one-twentieth of the sun’s ultraviolet rays can get through it. Commercial sun-protective clothing with UPF ratings of 50 or higher is available.
3. Protect all of the exposed skin on your body with sunscreen, even on overcast days. Make sure to use enough sunscreen. Most people use too little. It takes about one ounce of sunscreen to cover the exposed parts of an adult’s body adequately. (Don’t forget your ears.) It’s especially important to make sure to use enough sunscreen on all the exposed parts of your body if you’re going to be near sand, snow, or water, all of which reflect the sun, thus increasing your chances of getting burned.
4. Choose your sunscreen carefully. You’re probably familiar with the SPF (sun protection factor) rating on sunscreens, which is a measure of how well the sunscreen protects against ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, the kind that cause sunburn. Choose a sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 15. Also, look on the label of the sunscreen to make sure that it is a “broad-spectrum” product that protects against ultraviolet A (UVA) rays, as well as UVB. UVA rays don’t cause sunburn, but they do increase your risk of skin cancer. Finally, make sure that the sunscreen you choose is water-resistant. The American Academy of Dermatology recently made choosing a good sunscreen easier. The Academy allows its AAD Seal of Recognition to be placed only on sunscreens that are water-resistant and broad-spectrum and that have an SPF of 15 or more. You can look for this seal on the product label or on advertising or store displays.
5. Read the application directions on your tube of sunscreen carefully.
6. Reapply sunscreen often, at least once every two hours. If your skin has gotten wet from swimming or sweating, reapply sunscreen even more often because even water-resistant sunscreens can wash off. And if you’ve dried yourself with a towel, put on more sunscreen because you may have rubbed off the previous layer.
7. Even if you are scrupulous about using sunscreen, don’t expect that you can stay out in the sun all day without damaging your skin. No sunscreen provides complete protection.
8. Those who drive a lot should consider wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen while driving or having ultraviolet-protective films installed on the car windows. In most cars, only the windshield is made of the kind of glass that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. The other windows block UVB rays only.
9. Take a pass on skin tans. Tanning increases your risk of skin cancer. You don’t want skin cancer, whether it’s melanoma or another form.
10. If you need vitamin D get it through foods and vitamins. You can get all the vitamin D you need from foods, especially vitamin D-fortified milk, or from vitamin supplements.
There’s lots of information about skin cancer online. Learn about athletes and skin cancer and related topics, and determine whether you, a friend or relative might be at risk. Reducing the incidence of skin cancer can be achieved through education.