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Skin Cancer Awareness: How to Keep Your Skin Safe

Skin cancer will affect one in five Americans throughout the course of their lifetimes, and 800,000 have a history of melanoma. Skin cancers, including melanoma, can affect people young and old…but it also is, in some cases, preventable.

Artificial UV light counts too! Indoor tanning beds have been linked with skin cancers like melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and even ocular melanoma (cancers of the eye).

Even if you’re avoiding the tanning salon and just dealing with natural exposure, you need to play it safe. It doesn’t take long for your skin to become exposed. Just 15 minutes without sun protection in the hottest part of the day can damage your skin and increase your chances for skin cancer.

Use the following guidelines to keep your sun exposure to a minimum and protect your skin:

Time Your Sun Exposure Right

The sun is stronger during certain times of the day, so it’s important to keep out of the light when it is at its peak. Stay in the shade (or indoors) between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to avoid the strongest UV rays from the sun – especially during late spring and early summer.

Keep Protected with Clothing

Covering up exposed skin with loose-fitting clothing can protect you from the sun’s UV rays. A typical T-shirt has an SPF of about 15, but that number decreases if that shirt is wet. Wearing a t-shirt while you swim won’t be as effective as putting on the right sunblock. In addition to long sleeves and pants (if the weather isn’t too hot), you should also wear a hat with a wide brim to shade your face, head, and neck. Hats made from tightly woven, the dark fabric will give you the best coverage.

Don’t Forget Your Eyes

When you think of skin cancer and sun exposure, you probably don’t think of your eyes. But they are just as important to protect. Sunglasses that help block UVA and UVB rays can protect your eyes from exposure and protect the delicate skin around your eyes. Most sunglasses made in the U.S. provide this kind of protection, but wrap-around glasses will prevent the sun from getting in from the sides.

Choose the Right Sunscreen

Sunscreens work by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering the sunlight. They contain chemicals that work with your skin to block UV rays, and different brands use different chemicals to accomplish that goal. If you feel like a certain brand doesn’t work well with your skin, try another to find the right fit. You may be reacting to a specific chemical

Putting on sunscreen every day is the best way to reduce your risk of cancer. Cover all of your exposed skin – including easy-to-forget places like your ears and the back of your neck. Wearing at least an SPF 15 sunscreen will help keep your skin safe, but you should opt for a higher SPF number if you’re going to be in the sun for a long time or if you have lighter skin.

Before you use sunscreen, check the expiration date. They last about three years but should be thrown out sooner if they’ve been exposed to high temperatures.

Once you find a brand that you like, reapply it often if you’re in the sun for more than two hours, or you’ve been swimming or doing physical activity that makes you sweat. Without reapplication, you’ll be no better than if you didn’t wear sunscreen at all.

You can help prevent skin cancers and melanoma in the summer. Avoid the sun when possible, wear sunscreen when you’ll be exposed, and be sure to reapply often.