When the sun finally comes out after a long winter, no doubt you’re ready to run outside and enjoy its warmth. But while you’re having fun, don’t forget that summer sun can be unforgiving unless you take the proper precautions. To enjoy summer while avoiding severe skin damage, make sure you use sunscreen correctly, limit your exposure to UV radiation, and learn how to keep an eye on your own skin health.
The Looming Threat of Melanoma
Melanoma (skin cancer) is a more alarming concern than you might think. In 2018, 178,560 unique cases of the disease were reported in the U.S., claiming roughly 9,000 lives. Melanoma causes a disruption in your melanin, the pigment that gives your skin color. The exact cause of melanoma is unknown, but it’s clear that your chances of getting it are greatly increased from UV ray exposure. You are more prone to developing melanoma if you have fair skin, a history of sunburns, a substantial amount of moles on your body, or a family history of skin cancer.
Sunscreen is Your Secret Weapon
Sunscreen is not optional—it is a must. Using it to limit your exposure to UV rays is the most effective way to prevent skin damage. The defining characteristic of sunscreen is SPF, or “sun protection factor.” The SPF number describes the level of protection sunscreen provides from UVB radiation. For instance, if your skin normally burns in 10 minutes, an SPF 15 sunscreen will protect you for roughly 150 minutes. When choosing a sunscreen, look for one whose label mentions “broad spectrum.” This means that it protects against both UVA and UVB radiation.
- UVA rays damage your skin and lead to tans, wrinkles, and early skin aging.
- UVB rays cause sunburns that can later develop into skin cancer.
It’s important that you don’t buy into myths about sunscreen that might limit your proper use of it.
Myth #1: SPF doesn’t matter
For normal daily use, you should use an SPF of 15 or more. According to doctors, SPF 30 is ideal for spending extended time in the sun, as it filters out approximately 97% of all UVB rays. Beyond SPF 30, improvement is minimal and usually intended for special cases.
Myth #2: Sunscreen is waterproof
Sunscreen is NOT waterproof—but some are water resistant. If you are swimming or sweating a lot, your sunscreen should be reapplied every hour and a half. Check your sunscreen label; companies are required to specify whether it lasts 40 or 80 minutes when wet.
Myth #3: If it’s cloudy, it’s unnecessary
Clouds may block visible light, but they still let through approximately 80% of the UV radiation at any given time. Some people get their worst sunburns on overcast days. Apply sunscreen as usual on days like this, especially if you plan on being outside for an extended period of time.
Myth #4: You don’t need sunscreen if you have darker skin
People with darker skin often have a false sense of security about exposure to sun because they naturally tan more often than they burn—tanning damages skin cells too! Even if you have darker skin, you could still develop melanoma.
Other Sun Safety Practices
Sunscreen is an essential part of the equation, but you can also take other measures to improve your overall skin health and reduce your risks of developing melanoma.
Cover Up What You Can—Wearing wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirts, and pants give your skin a break from the intensity of the heat. Stay in the shade whenever you can to limit direct contact with the sun.
Avoid Tanning Beds—Being tan may be considered “stylish,” but it comes with its own set of complications. Tanning beds provide direct exposure to the same UV rays that cause melanoma. Indoor tanning increases your risk of developing melanoma by 75%.
Be an Expert on Your Body—Familiarize yourself with your skin and look for noticeable changes. Check for irregular shaping or discoloration in your moles. Nearly half of all melanoma cases are self-detected.
Get Regular Screenings—Your dermatologist can assess your skin health and provide appropriate exams based of your family medical history. If you or a family member has a history of melanoma, you should schedule a full-body exam at least once a year.