With longer days and warmer temperatures, most people spend more time outside during the summer, and in many ways, being outdoors is good for your health. But, National Skin Cancer Awareness month—the month of May—is a reminder that the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun can be dangerous.
There are some simple, important steps you can take to limit your risk, and that of your loved ones, of developing skin cancer.
Use and understand sunscreen
Everyone knows how important sunscreen is, but you might not know how it works, how to decide what SPF number to buy, how much to use, or how often to apply. There are two types of UV rays in sunlight: UVA and UVB. Both cause damage to your skin.
UVB rays are mostly responsible for sunburn, while UVA rays cause wrinkles, sagging, and other signs of aging. UVB rays are the main cause of skin cancer, but UVA rays increase the carcinogenic effect of UVB rays—which means both types contribute to the disease.
Sunscreen is labeled with a number, the sun protection factor, or SPF, which measures how well it protects you against UVB rays. The SPF tells you how long the sunscreen protects you. For example, if it would normally take 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to begin turning red from the sun, and you’re using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15, it should take around five hours for you to begin burning, or 15 times longer than it would without the sunscreen.
Broad spectrum sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays. You should look for a broad spectrum product with an SPF of at least 30.
However, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, no sunscreen should be expected to protect your skin without reapplication at least every two hours—and more often if you’re sweating, swimming, or near the water. Also, it’s important to understand how much sunscreen to apply. For an adult, the right amount of sunscreen is about one ounce, which is enough to fill a shot glass.
Sunscreen alone is not enough
Even if you’re using sunscreen properly, you should still take precautions because sunscreen doesn’t protect you from UVA rays and because your eyes and other areas that can’t be coated in sunscreen should be protected. Other important steps you can take include:
- Between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. especially, seek shade, if possible. During those hours, the sun’s rays are most intense.
- Wear protective clothing. Generally, the tighter the weave and darker the color, the more protection.
- Wear sunglasses that offer UV protection.
- Protect your lips with lip balm that offers SPF protection, and reapply often.
- Wear a hat to protect your scalp and to provide shade for your face.
Finally, for people who have a higher risk of skin cancer because they have a family history, especially fair skin, or have had it before, two additional measures are critical: self-examinations and regular checkups at Dermatology of Boca.
Once a month, examine all of your skin carefully. Look for anything that is different, such as new moles, dark spots, or lighter-colored patches of skin. Keep a notebook or journal, and record your observations each month.
At least once a year, schedule an appointment with Dr. Fromowitz at Dermatology of Boca for an exam. Having an annual evaluation by a trained professional gives you the best chance of catching any signs of skin cancer early, and early detection is one of the most important factors in a successful treatment of skin cancer.