We’re in the midst of summer when most of us are outdoors a lot more often. Enjoying beaches, biking, hiking, pool time, baseball, golf, picnics and many other outdoor activities. Exposing us to the sun’s rays.
As much as we should enjoy the outdoors and sunshine, the scary reality is that skin cancer rates have been increasing for the past 30 years. The American Cancer Society estimates more than 87,000 new melanoma cases will be diagnosed in 2017 and about 9,730 people are expected to die from this cancer. Any change in color to your skin is damage to the skin. So a base tan or light tan or whatever you call it really isn’t a ‘good tan.’ There is no such thing as a good tan.
I head to the dermatologist today for my 3-month melanoma check. My melanoma was discovered more than 10 years ago so I had graduated to 6-month checks. Until my body tried to misbehave and a recent biopsy came back borderline bad. So I’m back to seeing my doctor every three months for a bit. That’s okay. I like my doctor, and I figure there’s nothing wrong with being careful and catching any potential problems early.
I am surprised by the number of people who still don’t wear sunscreen, and lay out in the sun to tan (I am that person who freaks when I see a change in my pale white skin!). Or the parents who are great about slathering sunscreen on their children but not themselves.
Here are some easy ways that I protect myself from the sun (and still enjoy being outdoors in the sun!):
Hat: I admit I used to be kind of bad about wearing a hat, even though it’s the perfect way to protect your face and scalp. People may think I don’t want to ruin my hair (ha) but I admit that ever since chemo, when I wore a hat often to protect my bald head, I don’t love wearing one. However, I purchased a few baseball and cute straw hats that I’ve been wearing more often. Like I said, it’s such an easy way to protect your face’s skin and your scalp, especially if you’re outside for long periods of time.
Sunscreen: There are SO many varieties of sunscreen on the market. The most important aspect is ensuring the sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB. Most of the sunscreen is available in dry touch so no excuses that sunscreen makes you feel greasy. I know a lot of people like the spray bottles so you don’t have to get your hands ‘dirty’ but keep in mind that the spray might distribute unevenly so I recommend either spraying a lot or still rubbing in to ensure full coverage. Use a minimum of SPF 30 and don’t forget to reapply! My doctor provided some good recommendations for my sensitive skin a few years ago and she’s still my go to for answers and references (and sometimes samples!). I’ve already used two bottles of sunscreen this season! I wear a minimum of SPF 55 and own a variety of bottles sizes so I can carry in a bag, purse, cycling jersey, backpack, wherever.
Sun sleeves/shirts/clothing: Great clothing options are now available with SPF and UV protection, and lightweight enough to wear during warm weather. I have a few long sleeve shirts I wear while hiking that blocks the sun, yet is cool enough during activities. I also purchased sun sleeves to wear cycling. These white sleeves slide up my arm to cover me from shoulder to wrist. And don’t forget sunglasses to protect your eyes.
Supplements/skin care: My doctor recommended I take a supplement that helps repair and protect skin (talk to your doctor before taking any supplements). I also use a night cream to repair any damaged skin (and helps with anti-aging! Yep, you’re learning my secrets). My morning moisturizer has sunscreen in it so I’m protected when I walk out the door.
Skin checks: I mentioned that I see my dermatologist every three months for a skin check. This is due to my health history so probably not necessary for most people. However, everyone should have a skin check at least annually. Your primary care doctor can do this, or schedule an appointment with a dermatologist. If you have a family history of melanoma, I definitely recommend annual checks (talk to your doctor if you need something different/more often). Of course, if you see anything suspicious looking (changes to moles or skin), call immediately.
These are tips that work for me to protect my skin while I’m staying busy outdoors. Talk to your doctor about what works for you and other options to safely enjoy the sun and outdoors. As with anything, remember you are your own advocate. I pointed out a mole that looked like it was changing shape and color to my dermatologist years ago. He didn’t agree but a month later, I returned with the same concern so he removed the mole. Turned out to be early stage melanoma, which was treated with additional surgery. I admit I switched doctors at that point, to someone who had more time and a better strategy to follow my health. But I’m thankful I listened to my instinct to pursue my concern. So pay attention to your body, protect yourself from the sun while enjoying life, and be safe!