When people think about cancer prevention, most folks know the basics. For example, it’s important to eat nutritious foods, get plenty of physical activity and avoid smoking.
But one thing that can get overlooked is sun safety. Protecting yourself and your family from the sun’s ultraviolet rays can help reduce the risk for different skin cancers, including melanoma, the most serious type.
The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 7,600 people die of melanoma yearly, with exposure to UV rays considered a major risk factor. Almost 100,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. Your risk of melanoma increases as you age. The average diagnosis age is 65, however melanoma is one the most common cancers in young adults.
Despite the many dangers of skin cancer, people still don’t know what they should do to keep themselves safe. Often, it just comes down to habits and choices. Ask yourself: How can I be more vigilant about the risks in all areas of my health—from physical and mental health to financial wellbeing?
Start with these six actions:
What You Can Do, Starting Today
1. Wear Sunscreen Every Day
You should get in the habit of wearing sunscreen every day—make sure it’s broad-spectrum and water-resistant with an SPF 30 or higher. That also includes when it’s overcast or snowing. Even when it’s cloudy, up to 80% of UV radiation can reach your skin.
You’ll need about two tablespoons of sunscreen to apply to your whole body—most people don’t use enough. Make sure to put more on every two hours, or more frequently if you get wet.
2. Cover Up With Protective Clothing When You’re Outside
Some clothes have UV protection built into the fabric—this is called a “UPF” or ultraviolet protection factor. But even without UPF-rated clothing, you can still protect yourself with long-sleeved pants and shirts, UV-rated sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat (in addition to sunscreen, of course).
When picking your wardrobe, aim for dark colors, which provide more protection than lighter shades. Also mind the fabric type — densely woven clothes like denim or synthetic fibers are better at protecting your skin than thin fabrics.
3. Find Some Shade Whenever Possible
It’s best to avoid sunlight when UV rays are at their strongest, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. You can do this by working shade into your trips outside. Pack an umbrella for beach vacations or plan picnic spots near covered areas.
4. Get Abnormal Moles or Marks Checked Out
Self-monitoring is an important part of self-care. So, aim to do a skin self-exam on the front and back sides of your body—many doctors recommend this once a month.
When looking at your skin, search for new or changing spots, sores that don’t heal or asymmetrical moles with irregular borders. Call your doctor if you notice anything unusual or something that concerns you. They can do a physical exam and help determine a diagnosis.
5. Tell Your Doctor About Your Family History of Cancer
Write down any family members who have had skin cancer, or other cancers as well—since other cancers may be linked genetically to melanoma. People who have an immediate family member diagnosed with melanoma have a 50% higher chance of developing the cancer themselves.
6. Avoid Tanning Beds
It’s a myth that tanning beds are safer than sunlight—they’re not. Tanning beds can emit both UVA and UVB radiation, which are the same rays emitted by the sun. Both rays can increase the risk for skin cancer. In fact, tanning beds actually may be more dangerous since the rays stay at the same intensity compared to sunlight which varies in intensity during the day.
If you need more convincing, read up on the former Miss Maryland—she tanned at least four times a week starting at age 17, and by 20 years old, was diagnosed with melanoma.
Protect Your Skin, Protect Yourself
Skin cancer can be dangerous, but there are things you can do to help keep yourself safe. After all, preventive care is an important part of your overall health and wellness. And a big part of that is protecting your skin from UV damage.
How do you protect your skin when you’re outside? What other tips do you have for staying out of the sun? Let other readers know in the comments.