I need to use sunscreen any time I go out, even in the winter. Sometimes on really hot days, my skin will turn red if I just walk to my car or make a short trip in my car. I have light and sensitive skin, so I use non-scented sunscreen advertised for babies with a sun protection factor, or SPF, of at least 50.
But that’s just part of the battle. I’m not super outdoorsy, nor do I engage in any activities where the primary goal is to have the sun bake my skin into a darker, more golden tone, not that this would be possible. I’d just burn, and then have more freckles to count.
So perhaps I’m not in the best position to say this to people who do aspire to get a tan this season. As May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, however, I must. To improve your chances of avoiding a bout with skin cancer, do not bake in the blazing sun. If you want to go to the beach or lounge by a pool, use a large umbrella and plenty of sunscreen.
That also means that tanning beds are out too.
It’s not all bad news. These days, there are great products on the market that give you the appearance of a tan, available both on the shelves of your favorite retail location and at a salon. You get all the benefits of a nice, deep tan without the time, sweat or sand in awkward places.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also emphasizes that when you are outdoors, you should stay in the shade as much as possible, especially during the late morning through mid-afternoon. In addition to using sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher as well as UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) protection, wear sunglasses that also block UVA and UVB rays.
If you are gardening or engaging in another outdoor activity, consider your outfit carefully. Wear clothes that cover your arms and legs. I also try to wear a hat in the sun—and not one made of straw, either. There are actually clothes and hats that provide SPF protection, so if you really want to get serious about protecting your skin, it might be wise to make the investment.
These tips are the first part of being vigilant to fight skin cancer. The next is keeping an eye out for any unusual spots on your body.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, according to the CDC. In 2014, 76,665 people in the United States were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin, including 45,402 men and 31,263 women. In the same year, 9,324 people in the United States died from melanomas of the skin, including 6,161 men and 3,163 women.
The two most common types of skin cancer—basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas—are highly curable, according to the CDC. However, they can be disfiguring and costly to treat. The third type of skin cancer, melanoma, is more dangerous and causes the most deaths. The majority of these three types of skin cancer are caused by overexposure to UV light.
To figure out if a mole on your body is skin cancer or something else, use the ABCDE system:
“A” stands for asymmetrical. Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different?
“B” stands for border. Is the border irregular or jagged?
“C” is for color. Is the color uneven?
“D” is for diameter. Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
“E” is for evolving. Has the mole or spot changed during the past few weeks or months?
Of course, if you have any concerns, get checked out by a dermatologist. People who have a higher risk of skin cancer—because of a lot of sun exposure or genetics or a previous lesion—make it a point to periodically have their dermatologist look them over.
Yes, summer is on the way—temperatures today and Thursday will reach the 80s. It’s fine to have fun in the sun. But taking precautions can help ensure your health down the road.