By Dr. Julianne Childs, Medical Director of Medical Oncology, Shore Cancer Center
With Memorial Day behind us and three months of fun in the sun ahead of us, there is no better time than now to commit to protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. By following these tips, you can greatly reduce your risk of developing skin cancer, including melanoma, the deadliest type.
- Begin each day with a sun protection plan. Whether your day will be filled with work or play, know where you’ll be throughout the day, especially during the peak sun hours, and plan accordingly. If you’re planning a lunch break in the park, for example, bring a wide brimmed hat and sunscreen. Making sun protection a part of your everyday routine will make it easier to remember.
- Prevention begins at birth. The more sunburn incidents you have as a child, the greater the likelihood you will develop skin cancer as an adult. Infants age six months and younger should not be exposed to the sun at all because their skin is too sensitive for both sunscreen and the sun’s rays. After six months, apply a liberal amount of sunscreen and reapply regularly. Zinc oxide is a great choice for kids because it blocks 100 percent of the sun’s rays and comes in fun colors.
- Apply and repeat. A sunscreen with a protection factor of at least 15 should be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure to allow for proper absorption, but the real keys to preventing sunburn are applying sunscreen liberally and reapplying, especially if you’re at the beach. Use approximately 1 oz (a shot glass full) of sunscreen and reapply the same amount every two hours that you’re exposed to sun. Be sure to reapply after swimming or excessive sweating as well.
- Don’t forget your ears….Or your lips, scalp, the back of your hands, and the tops of your feet. These are areas of the body that we most commonly forget to protect.
- Use protective clothing and accessories. Light colored clothing, wide brimmed hats, sunglasses and lightweight long sleeves and pants or cover-ups are all helpful in preventing sun exposure. Avoid dark clothing because it absorbs the suns rays. Clothing and swimsuits with SPF add an extra layer of protection.
- Avoid the sun between 10 am and 2 pm. The sun’s rays are the strongest between these hours, even if it’s overcast. If you’re at the beach, spend those hours under an umbrella or take a break by going to an arcade or other indoor location.
- Don’t believe the “base tan” myth. There is little evidence that developing a base tan before heading out into the sun protects you against sunburn. Any change in skin color from ultraviolet rays is an indication of skin damage.
Fair skinned people should visit a dermatologist once a year for a complete check-up. However, whether your skin is fair or dark, everyone is at risk of developing skin cancer. It’s important to be familiar with your skin and report any changes to your doctor, including raised skin, darkening of an area, bleeding and itching.