Six tools to protect your skin against harmful UV rays
Yes, the sun is unavoidable. But, taking action to protect our skin from harmful UV rays may make getting skin cancer avoidable.
It is a fact that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. The American Cancer Society estimates about 5.4 million basal and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed each year, and another 96,480 new cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, will be diagnosed. For the state of Georgia, that includes 3,050 melanoma diagnoses.
Skin cancer can happen to anyone at any age, says Dana Coleman, BSN, RN, OCN, clinical special services manager, oncology nurse navigator and melanographer at the Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion. Familial heredity traits play a role, as well as sun exposure.
“Your risk increases with significant sunburns that blister and peel,” Coleman says. “It is important to know your family medical history and to also practice basic sun protection and screening methods.”
It starts with limiting sun exposure. Try to avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you must be in the sun, there are ways you can protect your skin. Here are six tools you can use to protect your skin from harmful UV rays and screen for skin abnormalities:
- Sunscreen. Choose a Broad Spectrum that will block UVA and UVB rays, Coleman advises. SPF 30 is adequate enough when outside but higher SPFs are available. Sunscreen should be applied before sun exposure. Be sure to reapply every two hours or after swimming, sweating or toweling off after going in water, Coleman says. Each application should be about an ounce to cover the body – even under clothing. Be sure to apply a lip balm that has sun protection too. And don’t forget about your hands and feet. Be sure to rub sunscreen into the skin of the feet and between fingers and toes, applying well enough to avoid slips or falls.
- Hats. Wearing a hat can protect areas you fail to apply sunscreen, such as the scalp, ears and areas of the face, Coleman says.
- Sun-protective clothing. We know it’s hot, but long sleeves are recommended. You can also look for clothes designed with SPF and sun protection. Be sure to follow manufacturer’s directions on how to clean these clothes to avoid compromising the protective factor of the clothing.
- Sun glasses. Wear appropriate UVA/UVB sun blocking eyewear. Skin cancer can occur in the eye, mainly melanomas of the eye and orbit. In the United States, about 1,800 men and 1,500 women are diagnosed with melanoma of the eye.
- Examine your skin. It’s also important to establish a routine of skin self-exams monthly and to follow up with your dermatologist every three to six months, depending on your personal skin history, or annually for any areas of concern, Coleman says. It is also helpful to make notes or even take pictures for documentation so you can show and explain how a lesion has changed over time.
- Mole mapping. At the Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion, we offer annual mole mapping, a digital documentation of the skin from year-to-year. Images are taken by a trained melanographer nurse and then a dermoscopy-certified dermatologist compares documented images to look for any subtle changes that might detect skin cancer lesions at an earlier stage. Keep in mind, this is not a replacement for a yearly dermatologist visit, Coleman says.
“Awareness of your surroundings and limiting exposure is key,” Coleman says. “We live in a coastal area so be aware that white or light-colored boat surfaces and sand reflect the sun’s harmful rays.”
For more information about skin cancer and preventing it, visit the LCRP website.