In this hot and bright time of year, it's time for a quick refresher on why it's so important to protect yourself from the sun, and how best to do that.
You might not know it from the publicity around other cancers, but skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, over two million people are diagnosed with skin cancer annually, with more new cases of skin cancer than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of their lifetime.
Most of these cancers are nonfatal and are treated with a simple removal of the cancerous spot. But melanoma, one form of skin cancer, can be fatal if left untreated. The vast majority of skin cancer cases are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
If the fear of death isn't enough to make you pull out your sunscreen when you head out for the day, perhaps vanity will: the sun plays a big part in skin aging. One Australian study found that after four years, people who had been directed to use SPF 15 sunscreen daily showed 24% less skin aging than the control group. This study probably underestimates the power of sunscreen to reduce aging, since it was conducted in the 90s and today's sunscreens are more effective.
Here are some recommendations from the Skin Cancer Foundation on how to protect yourself from the sun:
- Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
- Do not burn.
- Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should only be used on babies over the age of six months.
- Examine your skin head to toe once a month.
- See your primary care provider once a year for a physical. Regular skin cancer exams are a standard preventive screening.