May is Skin Cancer & Sun Safety Awareness Month, a
perfect time to remind us of the importance of protecting our largest organ. As
a melanoma cancer survivor, I’m a tad crazy about protecting my skin.
The facts around skin cancer are startling – more Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year than all other cancers combined (one in five people), according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. And the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention states the sun’s ultraviolet rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes! There is NO SAFE TAN. Changes to your skin color mean damage already occurred. A ‘base tan’ is not a safe tan nor will it help prevent burns.
My auburn hair and fair skin are some of my favorite
features about myself. But they don’t come without challenges, including very sensitive
skin and easy to burn. That’s why protecting my skin is really important to me.
Not to mention that melanoma is a serious cancer. I consider it a silent cancer….unless
you pay close to attention to changing moles or skin, it can be tough to
detect. I see a dermatologist every three months for checkup and because of how
many moles I have, I also have a set of medical photos for my doctor to compare
at each visit. This has led to additional moles being removed to ensure no more
Protecting our skin can be easy and minimal work with huge rewards (no skin cancer, healthier skin, less wrinkles)! Here are some tips to help you stay safe in the sun:
Wear sunscreen. Make sure it’s broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and that protects from UVA/UVB rays. There is a lot of talk whether the higher SPF is better or it’s all the same. Regardless, I still prefer the higher SPF as I’ve noticed a difference in my skin coloring (I remain much paler with a higher SPF). People often forget to make sure that makeup and lip balm have sunscreen too. Don’t skimp on applying! The American Academy of Dermatology recommends at least one ounce of sunscreen applied to exposed areas and reapply after two hours in the sun – reapply earlier if you’re sweating or swimming.
Look for shade. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10am-4pm. I like to plan my outdoor activities, such as hiking and biking, for early morning or evening. You can also enjoy the outdoors in the shade too. Look for trees to sit under, bring an umbrella or hang out in shady areas. For instance, one of my favorite biking trails goes through lots of wooded areas, providing good shade coverage while I’m biking along.
Wear a hat and sunglasses. I’m not a huge fan of wearing hats (I think wearing one all the time when I was bald during my first cancer kind of scarred me), but there are benefits to protecting my face. I have a big sun hat I wear when gardening or at my sister’s pool, and I often wear a baseball hat when hiking (remember to put sunscreen on the tips of your ears!). Sunglasses help protect your eyes and the thin, tender skin around your eyes (I’m at ‘that age’ that wrinkles are a battle, ugh). Make sure your sunglasses protect both UVA and UVB rays. Also make sure your eyes are protected from the sides.
Get some sun protection clothing. There are lots of great options of long-sleeve shirts, loose pants and more that have SPF coverage. Many of these clothing items will maintain the SPF for more than 50 washes. I even have SPF sun sleeves for cycling.
Know your skin. Look for skin changes, coloring changes, new bumps or marks such as moles, rash and others. If you notice anything, see your doctor. I caught my melanoma because I noticed a mole looked different. When my doctor wasn’t sure that it did, I insisted it be removed. I’m glad I did! So the other point is to listen to your gut. You know your body better than anyone else.