The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun and other sources of UV rays.
As the long winter months make way for spring and summer, many of us welcome the chance to get outside and enjoy warmer temperatures and sun-filled days. Whether it’s barbecues and outside picnics with family and friends or long walks in the afternoon sun, these longer days give us a chance to relax, spend time outdoors and recharge after a long winter.
When you’re outside enjoying the weather and soaking up the sun, it’s really important to protect your skin at the same time. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. At the same time, it’s also one of the most preventable. Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays causes most cases of melanoma, the deadliest kind of skin cancer. Unprotected skin can be damaged in as little as 15 minutes.
According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, the best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun and other sources of UV rays. Check out this article for tips on how to protect your skin and reduce your risk for developing skin cancer.
Tips for Protecting Your Skin
- Understand your risk level. Anyone can get skin cancer, but according to CDC, certain people are at greater risk for skin cancer, including:
- People who have a lighter natural skin color, blue or green eyes, or blond or red hair
- People with skin that burns easily or has a lot of freckles or moles
- People with a family history of skin cancer
- Veterans may be at greater risk for skin cancer, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), depending on their level of sun exposure while in the military, as well as their role while serving
- Protect your skin consistently. Your skin needs protection all year around, not just during the summer or when you head to the beach. UV rays can also damage your skin even when it’s cloudy and when it’s cool. UV rays can reflect off surfaces like water, sand and snow. Get into the habit of protecting your skin every day to maximize your protection.
- Use the right sunscreen. According to the Food and Drug Administration, a sunscreen should have a sun protection factor of 15 or higher and should be labeled “broad spectrum” to protect you against all types of UV rays. The CDC recommends putting it on 15-30 minutes before going outside and reapplying it every two hours, or more often if you’re swimming or sweating a lot.
- Cover up. When you go outside, wear a hat with a wide brim to protect your face, ears, head, and neck. Wear lightweight clothing to protect your arms, legs and feet. This is especially important if you work outside or aren’t able to reapply sunscreen as often as you should.
- Stay in the shade. Try to avoid long periods of direct sunlight, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is the strongest. If you like to take walks, consider walking in the evening or find a shaded route. If you like to garden, think about doing it early in the morning or when your garden is in the shade.
- Do not use tanning beds or sunbathe. If you enjoy having a tan in the summer, try to find a safe alternative to UV exposure. Use a spray tan or lotion that may give you the same look without the risk.
- Monitor the UV index. The UV index can help you figure out how strong the UV light is in your area on a scale of 1-11+. The higher the number, the greater the risk of exposure to UV rays. The United States Environmental Protection Agency provides an easy way to check the UV index in your area. Type in your ZIP code and get the UV forecast.
- Pay attention to changes in your skin. A change in your skin is the most common sign of skin cancer. Maybe you have a sore that won’t heal or a mole that has changed color or shape. If this is the case, talk to your health care provider about what you’ve noticed. The American Academy of Dermatology Association provides a step-by-step guide for how to perform a skin self-exam. For melanoma, the CDC provides a simple way to remember what to look for – the ABCDEs of melanoma:
- Asymmetrical – Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different?
- Border – Is the border irregular or jagged?
- Color – Is the color uneven?
- Diameter – Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
- Evolving – Has the mole or spot changed?
- Get an annual skin exam. If you’re among the people most at elevated risk for skin cancer, talk to your health care provider about getting an annual skin exam. A dermatologist can examine any changes you’ve noticed and look over your entire body for anything that looks concerning. Early detection is the most important factor in identifying and treating skin cancer.
- VA offers a lot of information related to skin protection and skin cancer.
- The Quality of Care page provides good tips for your time in the sun, including links to articles such as Preventing Skin Cancer and Are You Protected Against Skin Cancer?
- VA’s Whole Health Library on skin cancer details certain lifestyle choices that may impact your risk levels, including diet, vitamins, supplements and more.
- You can also learn more about what services VA offers related to skin cancer to ensure you get the care you deserve.
- CDC offers information on skin cancer broken into helpful categories such as risk factors, signs of skin cancer, prevention strategies and more.
- The National Cancer Institute offers a wide range of resources related to skin cancer, including information about skin cancer, treatment options, screenings, statistics and more.
Now that you’re equipped with the best ways to protect your skin, you’re ready for a summer filled with sun and fun!