It is the start of spring here in Seattle and there is a pervasive hope that this season will bring more sunshine. May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and the perfect time to reconsider our sun protection practices.
Why Protect Your Skin?
Why do sun protection practices matter? The short answer is: Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. It is estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime and 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. The rates of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, have also increased dramatically, doubling from 1982 to 2011.
Because exposure to UV light is the most preventable risk factor for all forms of skin cancers, dermatologists encourage everyone to protect their skin from the sun’s UV rays.
I recommend protecting your skin in the following ways:
Research has shown that daily use of sunscreen can cut the incidence of melanoma in half.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends choosing a sunscreen product that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. For my patients, I tend to recommend a 30 SPF to be used daily, and a 50 SPF if you are going to be outdoors for a prolonged period of time.
Other important considerations when selecting your sunscreen include choosing products with broad spectrum coverage and water or sweat resistance if you are planning to be outdoors for extended periods of time or if you plan to be engaged in sports or recreational activities. Broad spectrum coverage means that these products protect you not only from UVB, the rays that are known to burn, but also UVA rays that are known causes of photo-aging and skin damage.
Sunscreens should be applied liberally and to all sun-exposed body parts to provide effective protection. They should be applied 15 to 30 minutes prior to sun exposure, every two hours while out, and after water exposure.
Wear Protective Clothing
Hats with broad brims provide the greatest UV protection, and a brim of at least three inches has been recommended to provide sun protection for the nose and the cheeks.
As an average T-shirt only provides a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) of four to eight, one of my favorite strategies for protecting my family and me includes UPF clothing. These items can be found at stores such as Lands’ End, Solbari, and REI.
Remember your sunglasses too! Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays, and reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the skin around your eyes from sun exposure.
Shade can offer some protection, but the protection offered by trees and umbrellas can vary widely. Even in the shade, you are not fully protected from the sun. Consider the reflection of those rays off the sand or water! I would always recommend making sure to have your protective clothing and sunscreen on as well.
Importantly: Avoid Tanning Beds
Evidence from numerous studies has shown that exposure to UV radiation from tanning beds increases your risk of melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer, including squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma. There really is no such thing as a safe tan.
I hope these tips help you enjoy a safe and sunny summer!