By Melanie A. Warycha, MD FAAD | Dermatology
With spring underway, and summer right around the corner, many people are spending more time outdoors. While enjoying the warm weather and longer days, remember to practice sun safety. The most common form of cancer in the United States is skin cancer.
More than 5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Most of these cases are associated with the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
Both sunburns and tans are forms of skin injury. They damage the skin at the cellular level, which increases a person’s risk of skin cancer. “We know the incidence of melanoma, an aggressive and potentially fatal skin cancer, is on the rise,” explains Melanie A. Warycha, MD, a dermatologist at CareMount Medical. “The majority of skin cancers can be prevented. There are easy steps one can take to lower one’s risk of skin cancer.”
Follow these tips to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays:
- Avoid the sun, especially between 10am and 4pm when the sun’s rays are the strongest. If you are outdoors during this time, seek shade under a tree, tent, or beach umbrella.
- Cover up with clothing and sunglasses. Put on a wide-brimmed hat to shade your face, ears, and neck. Wear clothing made of tightly-woven fabrics to cover as much skin as possible. You can also purchase sun protective swimsuits, shirts, and pants. Protect your eyes with sunglasses that block 99% or 100% of UVA and UVB rays, also listed as “UV 400” on the label.
- Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect against UVA and UVB rays. It should contain at least one of these ingredients: titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone, or ecamsule. Make sure the sunscreen has an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outdoors so it can be absorbed. Rub a generous amount into all areas of skin that are exposed. Don’t forget your ears, hands, feet, and neck! Reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating.
- Apply lip balm with an SPF rating of at least 30 to your lips. Reapply every two hours, just as you would with sunscreen.
- Avoid tanning beds and sun lamps. They emit UV rays, which can be stronger than sunlight, and increase the risk of skin cancer.
Sun protection is not just for summer. “People need sun protection all-year round,” says Dr. Warycha. “Sun can reflect off snow, sand, and water. If you know you’ll be outdoors for greater than 15 minutes, apply sunscreen, even in the wintertime.”
Melanie A. Warycha, MD
Director of MOHS Surgery, Mount Sinai Health System at CareMount Medical