Four sneaky ways you are exposing your skin to cancer

Jul 3, 2018

Summer is here and what better way to cool off than hanging by the pool or on a sandy beach. While you can have fun in the sun, it’s also important to be sun savvy and protect your skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that could lead to skin cancer.

UV rays from the sun can cause skin damage in as little as 15 minutes. Prolonged exposure and damage can lead to various forms of skin cancer, many of which can be prevented.

Cindy Homberger, nurse navigator and melanographer at the Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer & Research PavilionSkin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer. In fact, more skin cancers are diagnosed in the United States each year than all other cancers combined.

Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are often found in areas exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck and arms. These skin cancers are very common but also are typically very treatable. Melanoma is less common, accounting for about one percent of skin cancers, but causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths. About 9,320 people are expected to die of melanoma in 2018, according to the American Cancer Society.

The best protection against melanoma and other skin cancers is protecting your skin from harmful UV rays, mainly the sun but also tanning beds and sun lamps.

Most of us know the best ways to protect our skin from the sun: wearing sunscreen daily and avoiding the sun during peak hours (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.).

“Always wear sunblock and be sure to keep reapplying,” advises Cindy Homberger, RN, nurse navigator and melanographer at the Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion. “We are told to avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. – those are the worst possible times to be in the sun. If you can’t avoid it, try to get in the shade as much as possible.”

Homberger also recommends using a sunblock of 30 SPF or higher and using creams vs. sprays. If you choose to use sprays, Homberger recommends reapplying more often.

While some of this may seem like common sense and easy enough to follow, there are other things that increase your risk of getting skin cancer that you might not realize. Here’s a look at four sneaky ways you are exposing your skin to those harmful UV rays:

1. Relying solely on that umbrella
Most of us are guilty of popping open the umbrella and sitting underneath it all day thinking we are good. While sitting in the shade or under an umbrella is smart, it still isn’t enough. The sun comes at you from other areas, Homberger says. Even if you are not in direct sunlight it still reflects off sand and water and can burn your skin. Even in the shade, always apply and reapply sunscreen.

2. Not using sunblock on cloudy days or even driving in the car
Healthcare professionals recommend using sunblock anytime you go outside, regardless if it’s a bright sunny day or not. Up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays can pass through clouds. Therefore, an overcast sky does not mean you won’t get burnt. What a lot of people also don’t realize is UV rays also pass through glass, Homberger says. If you spend a lot of time in your vehicle or if your occupation is mostly spent in a car, you should apply sunblock, especially to the arms.

3. Having one too many adult beverages
For some of us, lying by the pool or on the beach goes hand in hand with a nice frozen cocktail or ice cold beer. But be warned: studies show that adults who drink while spending time in the sun have higher sunburn rates than nondrinkers. That’s because the body metabolizes alcohol into a compound called acetaldehyde, which may cause the skin to be more sensitive to the sun’s UV rays.

Additionally, and quite frankly, when we drink we tend to be less vigilant about sun safety – applying and reapplying sunblock – and less perceptive of when our skin may be burning, Homberger says. Try to set a one-drink limit or at least a reminder to keep reapplying the sunscreen.

4. Spending too much time on your phone
Does this sound like a stretch to you? Actually, it’s not. One of the best ways to prevent sunburns is applying and most importantly reapplying sunblock, especially the longer you are outside. However, too many of us get lost in social media, texting or playing on our phones.

“You have that head down and you are on the phone and you don’t realize you are burning until you feel it,” Homberger says.

It’s OK to enjoy trending tweets and your BFF’s latest Snap but be sure to keep reapplying the sunblock.

Related Article: Here’s how mole mapping at the Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion helps with early detection, prevention of skin cancer

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