This time of year many of us look forward to spending more time outside and that means spending more time in the sun. Some may think that getting a tan makes us look healthy, but a tan is actually a sign that your skin has been injured. As damage builds up from exposure over time, you increase the your skin cancer risk along with aging your skin.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, but it’s also preventable. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer. Not only do the UV rays contribute to your skin cancer risk, it also causes wrinkles. So the healthy look you may try to get from the sun is actually speeding up the aging process.
Here are some tips for protecting your skin from the sun:
- Seek shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the strongest
- Wear protective clothing such as lightweight long-sleeved shirt and pants, along with a hat and sunglasses.
- Generously apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen. Water and sweat resistant sunscreen with and SPF of 30 or higher is recommended. Broad-spectrum sunscreen provides protection from UVA and UVA rays.
- Even on cloudy days wearing sunscreen and protective clothing is important.
- Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand. Reflective surfaces such as these can increase your chance for sunburn.
- Apply sunscreen to cover all exposed skin— don’t forget the tops of your feet and head, plus your neck and ears!. You should apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going out in the sun and reapply every two hours or if you’ve been in the water or sweating.
- Avoid tanning beds. UV light from tanning beds can cause skin cancer and premature aging like the sun.
Antioxidants, such as retinol, are important for a healthy immune system. Studies have found that higher intake of retinol-rich foods, such as fish, milk, eggs, dark green leafy vegetables, and orange/yellow fruits and vegetables led to a 20 percent reduced risk of developing melanoma.
If you do insist on having the look of a tan, consider using a self-tanning products. There are many products on the market today that don’t turn your skin orange like they used to do. However, these products do not provide any protection from the sun, so continue to use sunscreen.
Even though we do our best to protect ourselves from the sun, performing regular skin self-exams are important. When detected early, most skin cancer is treatable. If you notice any new or suspicious spots on your skin, see a board-certified dermatologist.
Follow the ABCDE rules and consult your dermatologist immediately if any of your moles or pigmented spots exhibit:
A = Asymmetry
This is where one half of a spot or mole is unlike the other half.
B = Border
This is an irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border.
C = Color
If the color is varied from one area to another; has shades of tan, brown or black, or is sometimes white, red, or blue
D = Diameter
Melanomas are usually greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, but they can be smaller.
E = Evolving
A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color.
Protecting yourself from damaging effects from the sun is key to keeping your skin looking young and healthy. If you do notice any changes, contact your dermatologist.