Skin cancer rates have been rising for many years. It seems that many of us love the sunshine – to a fault. The UV radiation from the sun causes skin damage and aging, cataracts and skin cancer. Every year there are more new cases of skin cancer than new cases of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined! One in five Americans will develop a skin cancer in their lifetime.
We all know about SPF, but this shouldn’t be your first line of defense against the sun. Challenge yourself to think about sun safety differently by changing some of your behaviors for the better.
First Line Defenses
Cover your skin – Clothing and hats protect your skin from the sun better than any SPF. Wear a long sleeve cover up or rash guard shirt when you’re going to the pool or beach. Choose a big hat- a baseball cap doesn’t offer much protection. Try a bucket style hat or wide brimmed hat to get more coverage.
Don’t forget your eyes – Sunglasses are not just a fashion accessory. They can protect your eyes from UV damage that can lead to cataracts and other eye problems.
Shade is your friend – It may seem simple, but it isn’t always easy to find a shady spot. You have to train yourself to look for and find shade whenever possible. Walking down a sunny street- is one side shadier? Going to a kid’s baseball game – how about getting a pop up chair with a canopy? Use an umbrella to provide your own shade. Make it a challenge next time you’re out in the sun- can you find a shadier location?
Can you do your outdoor activities in the morning or late afternoon avoiding the sun’s strongest hours?
Now Add Sunscreen to the Mix
Once you have incorporated all these steps, sunscreen is the next layer of defense. Use a sunscreen that is “broad spectrum” – meaning it protects against UV A & B rays. While there are sunscreens with SPF up to 100, for most people an SPF of 50 is plenty. Studies have shown that using a higher SPF gives people a false sense of security and they think they can be out in the sun much longer, resulting in more burns.
Apply your sunscreen 30 minutes BEFORE going outside. How many people are sitting on the beach just getting out the bottle? Reapply every 2 hours – or more often if you are swimming or sweating.
Remember the Kids!
If you are of a certain age, you may not have grown up using sunscreen or even thinking about sun safety. But now we know the dangers of our behaviors – the sunburns at the beach, hours on the ballfield without sunscreen, hours in the pool. We are raising a new generation of kids who can be smarter with our help. Sunburns in childhood can double the chance of developing melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.
In addition to sunscreen, we need to teach kids to cover up, seek out shade, and to wear hats and sunglasses. Modeling this behavior is a great first step! Getting my 11 year old to wear a swim shirt is always a fight- until we were on vacation and saw a kid burned so badly that he screamed when his sister touched his shoulder. Kids need concrete examples and unfortunately, this kid was a perfect example. Point out good sun safety behaviors for them too. As your kids get older, they are less and less under your control, but if you have taught them all along, they might surprise you.
Carolyn Vachani is an oncology advanced practice nurse and the Managing Editor at OncoLink. She has worked in many areas of oncology including BMT, clinical research, radiation therapy and staff development. She serves as the project leader in the development and maintenance of the OncoLife Survivorship Care Plan and has a strong interest in oncology survivorship care. She enjoys discussing just about any cancer topic, as well as gardening, cooking and, of course, her sons.