Do you crave a sun-kissed look that speaks of hours spent at the beach? Well, don’t just stock up on tanning oil and let yourself bake for a few hours. There are numerous dangers to consider before treating yourself like a human rotisserie chicken—and skin cancer tops the list.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US, with one in five Americans developing skin cancer in their lifetime. Fortunately, you don’t need to live in fear of the sun to keep yourself safe. Instead, consider these four tips for skin cancer prevention.
1. Protect yourself when the sun is high.
Whether it’s summer or winter, long periods of sun exposure put you at risk of skin cancer. A single afternoon of sun exposure won’t kill you, but the effect is cumulative: over time, the ultraviolet (UV) light of the sun damages your body’s elastin (the fibers in the skin). This is what ultimately causes your skin to wrinkle, develop spots, and otherwise age. Over time, basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer can develop.
This doesn’t mean you need to hole up in your room during daylight hours. Instead, be smart. Keep to the shade between 10 AM and 4 PM, and wear clothing that keeps you covered. Most importantly, use sunscreen.
2. Use the right sunscreen.
Using sunscreen is the best way to protect yourself while still enjoying everything the daytime has to offer. However, not all sunscreens are created equal. To get the best protection, select one that
- has the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation,
- is SPF 15 or higher, and
- is broad-spectrum (i.e., protects against UVA and UVB radiation).
Don’t skimp on the sunscreen, either. You should be using two milligrams of sunscreen per square centimeter of skin. “This is about the equivalent of a shot glass full, or about two tablespoons,” says board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD. “For the face alone, a nickel-sized dollop should be applied.” And don’t forget to reapply throughout the day.
3. Avoid tanning.
OK, so sitting in the sun motionless and unprotected for hours on end isn’t the smartest thing to do. But surely inside alternatives are safer, right?
Not really. Going to a tanning salon isn’t any better than a poolside bake. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, just one indoor tanning session before age 35 increases your risk of skin cancer by 75 percent. That’s because tanning beds use UV rays, the same radiation produced by the sun.
4. Get a yearly checkup.
Even as you follow the above tips, you’ll need professional help. Make plans for a yearly visit with a dermatologist, who will give you a full-body exam and find those spots you can never seem to reach on your own. You may want to visit more often if any of the following apply to you:
- You have a close relative who has had skin cancer.
- You have a suspicious mole/growth.
- You have had X-ray acne treatment.
- You have very fair skin and burn easily.
In honor of Skin Cancer Awareness Month, let’s all pay our skin a little more attention. We all want our time in the sun, but taking that time responsibly will ensure we can enjoy it much longer than otherwise. Follow these skin cancer prevention tips as best you can, and the sunlight will feel that much sweeter on your skin.