May is Skin Cancer Awareness month, which serves as a time to remind ourselves of the necessary precautions we should be taking to protect our skin year-round, but especially as the sunnier days of summer approach. After all, as the Skin Cancer Foundation reminds us, "skin cancer is America's most common cancer" and also one of the more preventable forms of it.
You likely already know much of what you should be doing to protect your skin, but how consistent are you putting those steps into practice? We challenge to you this month to revisit the skin cancer prevention tips below and make a plan for how you can incorporate them regularly into your lifestyle. Doing so will not only protect your overall health but will also ensure your skin holds onto a more youthful appearance.
Apply Sunscreen Properly & Regularly
Give yourself a pat on the back if you apply sunscreen daily, year-round. However, if you only apply it to your face, it's time to improve your game. Many of us get caught in the habit of applying sunscreen solely to prevent photoaging - a term for premature skin aging caused by UV exposure. However, all exposed areas of skin should have sunscreen applied daily.
Beyond that, it's vital to ensure you're using enough. Adults typically need an ounce of sunscreen - the equivalent of a shot glass - to cover all exposed areas of skin. Plus, sunscreen should be applied at least 30 minutes before going outdoors and reapplied every few hours. If you get wet (e.g. swimming), sunscreen must be immediately reapplied.
As for the appropriate SPF (sun protection factor), we get this question a lot; so often, in fact, that we wrote a blog post about it. (Read "Is SPF 15 Enough?") The short answer: SPF 15 protects against approximately 93% of the sun's UVB rays.
- Apply sunscreen to all exposed areas of skin, year-round.
- Use at least an ounce of product when applying to all exposed areas of skin.
- Apply 30 minutes before going outdoors and reapply every few hours.
- Use at least SPF 15.
Wear Protective Clothing
While SPF gives us a good deal of protection from the sun's harmful rays, the reality is that it isn't a complete solution. While you may prefer to spend the day at the beach in a bathing suit without additional coverage, doing so will put your skin at risk. At minimum, a wide-brimmed hat should be worn when outdoors. Ideally, all skin should be covered with lightweight, UV-protective fabric, especially areas that are hard-hit by the sun, such as shoulders and arms. And don't forget to wear sunglasses! Not only do they protect your eyes, which can also be harmed by UV rays (learn about Surfer's Eye), they also shelter the delicate skin around your eyes.
- When outdoors, wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
- Ideally, all skin should be covered but especially shoulders and arms.
Avoid UV Exposure
It's hard to fully avoid the sun's UV rays. After all, we're exposed to them any time we leave our house, even if it's a cloudy day. We can, however, minimize our exposure. For example, when outdoors for extended periods of time, seek out the shade. If going to the beach, avoid peak hours of sunlight and bring along an umbrella.
Surprisingly, driving a car can be a significant source of skin damage. It's been found that car door windows offer minimal UV protection, a factor that has contributed to an increased prevalence of skin cancers on the left side of the body. To increase your protection in the car, consider installing UV film in your windows.
And while you've heard it countless times before, it bears repeating: never ever visit a tanning bed. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, "just one indoor tanning session can increase the risk of developing skin cancer: melanoma by 20%, squamous cell carcinoma by 67%, and basal cell carcinoma by 29%."
- UV rays can harm your skin any time you're exposed to sunlight. Take precaution in your car and even when outdoors for just a few moments.
- Never use a tanning bed!
Perform a Monthly Skin Exam
When caught early, skin cancer is typically highly treatable. For that reason, performing a monthly skin self-check is a vital practice. Doing so is simple: set a date on the calendar so you perform the exam regularly. Evaluate all areas of skin, even those that aren't exposed to the skin. If you find any areas that match one or more of the following descriptions, call your dermatologist immediately:
A: Assymetrical in shape
B: Odd borders, including jagged, rough, uneven or blurry edges.
C: More than one color. You might see tan, brown, black, red, pink or even blue tones.
D: Mole has a diameter larger than a pencil eraser.
E: Mole has evolved in its appearance since your last self-check. For example, it has become oozy or crusty, grown in size or changed color or shape.
Now that you've been reminded of how to prevent skin cancer, it's time to spread the word. Share this post with a friend to help them commit to safer skin habits and set a monthly skin-check goal starting this Skin Cancer Awareness month.