With skin cancer being the most common of all cancers, protecting yourself from the sun is something to think about all year long, especially on hot summer days.
According to a survey by the CDC in 2020, the number of adults using sunscreen regularly is low. In fact, only about 40% of men and women combined stated that they put on sunscreen when outside for more than an hour. Unfortunately, getting even a single sunburn increases your risk of developing melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer. Suffering five or more sunburns doubles your lifetime risk. While sunburn is an immediate reaction, it is a fact that damage from the sun occurs over a lifetime. Your skin can be harmed by constant sun exposure, whether you see a burn or not.
4 Practical Tips for Protecting Your Skin From the Sun
Staying out of the sun is the best way to avoid skin damage, but that’s not always easy to do. Take these additional recommended precautions from the Skin Cancer Foundation to help lower your skin cancer risk:
1. Always wear sunscreen and slather it on
It can be hard to remember, but you should try to make wearing sunscreen a daily habit. When choosing a sunscreen, look for one that’s labeled “broad spectrum,” as these provide protection from UVA and UVB rays, which can both cause cancer.
SPF (sun protection factor) is also important to consider. The SPF number tells you how well the product will protect you from UVB, the burning rays of the sun. A good rule of thumb is to pick a product that at least has an SPF of 15. With that said, SPF 30 is better. If you have had skin cancer or a precancer, it’s a good idea to opt for sunscreen with an even higher SPF level.
Properly Applying Sunscreen
Use sunscreen liberally, applying evenly to all exposed skin. Use one ounce, or a golf ball-sized amount, for every application. Not using enough will limit the SPF of the product and the protection you receive.
Don’t forget to cover those often-missed spots: lips, ears, around eyes, neck, scalp, hands, and feet. Reapply at least every two hours, more often if you’ve been sweating, swimming, or towel-drying.
2. Dress for Sun-cess (Cover-up)
The clothes you wear when in contact with the sun can really make a difference. If you’re wearing clothing that has thin or see-through fabric, it means the UV rays can easily penetrate it. And, if you’re spending time in the water, the fabric becomes even more translucent. As often as possible, wear protective clothing. Today, it’s easy to find sun-protective clothing that has been specifically designed to protect against UV radiation. However, simply putting on long sleeves and pants can help. Donning a wide-brimmed hat and wearing sunglasses that filter UV light is also smart.
3. Cover Your Eyes
Just as the sun can damage your skin, UV rays can cause damage to your eyes — damage that can lead to premature aging around the eyes, skin cancer on the eyelids, and damage to the eye itself. However, by wearing UV-blocking sunglasses, you can enjoy the sunshine safely while lowering your risk of potential eye issues that often take years to develop.
Especially if you’re near the water… be sure to wear eye protection, even if it’s cloudy. The preferred type of eye protection when near the snow, water, or sand is a pair of polarized wrap-around sunglasses for the best overall coverage. But, if you prefer a different style, at least make sure that they have “100% UV protection” or “100% protection against UV 400” printed on the label.
4. Know When to Avoid the Sun
There are several factors to consider when it comes to spending time in the sun, but a major one is the time of day. The sun is at its most dangerous between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm because the ultraviolet rays that cause sunburn are strongest during this time. This is especially important to remember even in winter, especially if you’re at a higher altitude.
Before you go out on any given day, it’s a good idea to check the UV Index. The UV Index, created by the US National Weather Service and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gives you an idea of how strong the UV light is in your area on a scale from 1 to 11+. Knowing what your area looks like for the day can help you better plan your outdoor activities. If you still have to be out during these hours, be sure to refer back to the first 3 tips above!
Watch this video on How to Stay Sun Safe.
Be Aware of the Signs of Skin Cancer
One of your biggest defenses against skin cancer is knowing what to look for. Get familiar with your skin and pay attention to any changes you notice, no matter how subtle, and don’t wait to have them looked at. While it might not be cancer, it could be, and the earlier it’s caught, the easier it will be to treat.
Although there are different types of skin cancer that manifest themselves in different ways, there are some general signs of skin cancer to look for. These include:
- A new or unusual mark or spot on your skin that won’t go away
- Spots that ooze, bleed, feel scaly, get crusty, or don’t heal
- Moles that swell become red, change in shape or color or have poorly defined borders
- Persistent pain or itchiness of the skin
It’s also a good idea to learn about the ABCDE warning signs of melanoma.
When to Consult with a Doctor
If you notice any concerning changes in your skin, you should schedule an appointment with your primary care physician or dermatologist. It is better to err on the side of caution and have peace of mind, even if it isn’t cancer.
Skin Cancer Treatment in Willamette Valley
Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer, so it’s important to remain diligent in protecting yourself from sun exposure. Perform routine self-exams of your skin and schedule yearly skin checkups with your PCP or dermatologist to ensure your skin is healthy and stays that way. Remember, early detection is key to treating skin cancer successfully.
If you are newly diagnosed with skin cancer, the oncologists at Willamette Valley Cancer Institute are here to discuss the best skin cancer treatment for you. Contact us today at one of our convenient Willamette Valley locations that include Albany, Corvallis, Eugene, Florence, Lincoln City, and Newport, Oregon.