As spring turns to summer, people are eager to hit the beach chairs and get some sun. That means lots of sunscreen and specially designed UV protective clothing, however skin protection measures like these haven’t always been so prevalent.
“Many of us grew up before the relative ubiquity of sunscreen,” said Elizabeth Page, MD a dermatologist at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center. “Many of us were so interested in getting that California glow that we forgot to think about the possibility of developing skin cancer in our 50s and 60s.”
So, the big question is, has the damage already been done? If you had some not-so-great habits when you were growing up, does that mean you’re doomed to a melanoma diagnosis?
The short answer is “no.” But there’s a little more to it than that.
“There are no sure-fire prevention methods for melanoma,” Page said. “However, there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk factors for skin cancer, most of which revolve around reducing your exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays.”
Finding shade may seem like a simple solution, but it is invariably one of the most reliable. Although they provide limited UV protection, finding shade under a beach umbrella or large tree can be a good first step if you’re spending the day outdoors. The strength of the sun’s rays is at its peak between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so if you’re out in the sun during these hours, try some breathable long-sleeve clothing or a beach cover-up to keep your skin protected. Additionally, a wide brimmed hat and UV protective sunglasses safeguard the often-overlooked scalp and eyes.
Choosing the right sunscreen and applying it regularly is critical. But with so many out there, what should you choose? Look closely at the labels and search for these terms to pick what’s right for you:
Broad Spectrum – Broad spectrum sunscreens protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays.
SPF 30+ – Experts agree that a sun protection factor of 30 or above gives the most consistent protection.
Water Resistance – While no sunscreen is waterproof, water resistant sunscreens retain their sun defense for 40 or 80 minutes of swimming or sweating.
Application is just as important as the product you choose.
Studies show that people apply half the recommended amount of sunscreen. “Don’t skimp,” said Page. “It will take more to cover your body than you think, but make sure you get a full coat on all exposed skin.”. And if you’re wearing a bathing suit, you should apply an ounce of sunscreen (a full cupped handful) to get a full coat on all exposed skin.
Because sunscreen can take up to 20 minutes to sink into the skin, it’s a good idea to apply well before you plan on being in the sun. And reapplication is also a must; sunscreen needs to be put on every two hours or so, and immediately after swimming or toweling off.
Keep an eye on your skin with regular inspections of moles or other skin irregularities. If your moles are growing or changing in shape or color, it may be time to seek a dermatologist’s opinion.
“The sooner these changes can be noted by a physician, the higher the likelihood that the spot can be treated before it turns cancerous,” Page said.