8 Ways to Prevent Skin Cancer
After what felt like an entire year of winter due to COVID-19 lockdown protocols, people are diving headfirst into summer vacation this year. As eager as we might be to see if we still fit into those micro-Speedos we never got to show off last summer, it's wise to remember basic precautions when heading for the lake or beach.
According to the CDC, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S., with about 4.3 million people undergoing treatment annually. Even worse, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, melanoma, can spread to other parts of the body and prove fatal.
Luckily, we have tools and information available today to help prevent skin cancer tomorrow. Here are a few crucial steps to take to save your skin—and perhaps your life.
1. Consider cumulative coverage
Sun exposure counts against you even if you're not lying on the beach in the baking summer heat. A chronic cumulative exposure to ultraviolet sun rays throughout a lifetime causes cancer. That means cloudy days, walking to the mailbox, stepping from your car to the office and even exposure through the windshield as you drive all affect your skin more than you likely realize.
2. Use sunscreen daily
Sunscreen needs to be more than an afterthought or something you only grab on your way to the shore. Dermatologists suggest making sunscreen part of your daily routine, just like showering and brushing your teeth.
3. Use enough sunscreen (Hint: you're not using enough)
The vast majority of people go far too light on sunscreen, rendering it more or less useless. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using an ounce of sunscreen every time you apply the stuff, or about the contents of a shot glass. Aim for a nickel-sized dollop on your face alone, and remember to reapply it every two hours, more after swimming or if you're sweating heavily.
4. Don't forget the nooks and crannies
When people are applying sunscreen, some areas that often go overlooked and are particularly vulnerable to skin cancer include the ears, the back of the neck and the tops of the feet. Another important spot for daily sunscreen is the backs of your hands. They're pretty much constantly exposed to the sun's rays, even though the windshield when you're driving.
5. Don't give up
People who were around before there was a broad understanding of how dangerous the sun's rays are, and others who might have spent a lot of time overexposed lying by the pool or on the beach sometimes assume there's no hope for them. However, changing your behavior can help at any age.
6. Remember, skin cancer isn't your only concern
The benefit of limiting sun exposure isn't just tied to reducing your chances of getting cancer. Protecting your skin from UV light also slows the development of wrinkles and sunspots and keeps you looking younger.
7. There's sun danger no matter your skin color
Darker skin may help reduce your chances of developing skin cancer, it's true. But keep in mind people with darker skin suffer from melanoma at a much higher rate than people with fairer skin. According to a 2016 study in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention, the five-year skin cancer survival rate for white people was 92 percent versus just 70 percent for people of color.
8. Be shady
Staying in the shade is great and creating your own is even better. Wear a broad-brimmed hat or look for clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF), which is clothing woven tight enough to prevent UV rays from penetrating. For instance, a regular T-shirt still allows some UV rays in, whereas a rash guard shirt designed with a UPF will not.
We're all yearning to get outside and get active this summer, given how much time we spent at home this past year. However, don't let your eagerness to accept all those outdoor invitations make you overlook crucial skin care. Keep a tube of sunscreen and a hat at your front or back door. Keep another in your car. Buy sunscreen whenever it's on sale and keep an inventory in your bathroom closet if you can. And most importantly, keep sunscreen on your bathroom counter to apply all over first thing when you wake up every morning. Then enjoy a wonderful outdoor season, knowing you're keeping yourself protected.