Summer time: Dos and don’ts to keep your skin cancer free

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There’s nothing quite like a sunny summer day. BBQs, boating and lazy hours at the beach are all good for the soul – but it’s just as important to make sure they are also good for the skin!

Heading outside unprepared can destroy delicate skin, resulting in nasty sunburns, blisters and even deadly sun stroke. A sunburn is nothing to take lightly, especially with skin cancer listed as the most common of all cancers with more than 50,000 cases annually, and with melanoma (its most fatal variety) accounting for 75,000 skin cancer diagnoses in the United States in 2012.

Hispanics in turn have the second highest rate of skin cancer in the country.

  • Don’t skimp on SPF

Pool party under the sun

This summer, protect yourself! A sunburn is nothing to take lightly, especially with skin cancer listed as the most common of all cancers, and with melanoma (its most fatal variety) accounting for 75,000 skin cancer diagnosis in the United States in 2012.

Sun protection factor (SPF) is the number that you see labeled on the outside of sun care products. The SPF amount can greatly vary depending on product – and can be anywhere from SPF 4 to 110. That number matters.

Just because there is some SPF in the bottle doesn’t mean it is protecting you. Tanning oils are a great example. Many are marketed as “sun-safe” because they contain SPF 2 or 4, but for the amount of protection those small of numbers offer – you might as well marinate in baby oil.

How does it work?

The SPF number refers to how long you can stay protected in the sun. For example a sunscreen with SPF 15 allows you to stay in the sun 15 times longer than you normally  could without burning. In fact SPF 15 is the minimum amount recommended for year round skin care.

For those lazy days at the pool make sure to choose a SPF higher than 15, and only buy “broad-spectrum” – meaning that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

UVB rays are the primary cause of those blistery red burns (and the delightful peeling to follow) as well as cancer, while UVA radiation penetrates the skin and causes premature aging, like wrinkles and sun spots.

The Skin Cancer Foundation warns that people do not wear nearly enough sunscreen to protect their entire bodies when they head outdoors. (Any sun exposure leading to more than 20 minutes in the sun requires sunscreen.) Two tablespoons is the recommended amount and it’s best applied 30 minutes prior to sun exposure. Sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours.

What about you active swimmers (and sweaters)? The FDA considers waterproof sunscreen anything that “maintains its SPF following 80 minutes of water exposure.” However, please keep in mind that it is recommended to reapply immediately after spending time in the water or sweating.

And don’t forget! Just because you don’t lounge like a lizard, doesn’t mean you are not at risk for burning and skin cancer. Activity doesn’t protect you from harmful rays – so a sunny game of frisbee can be just as hazardous to your health as laying out would be.

Being active is great! But grab the SPF (higher than 15 please) sun protective clothing – and a baseball cap for added protection.

  • Don’t forget about the kiddies

Use sunscreen at the beach and anytime outdoors

Any sun exposure leading to more than 20 minutes in the sun requires sunscreen and this should be reapplied after contact with water or excessive sweating.

The fountain of youth only protects the heart, not the skin. The Skin Cancer Foundation strongly warns to keep newborns out of the sun, and any child over 6 months old should wear sunscreen at all times.

In fact, kids are more sensitive to the sun than adults! It’s a much overlooked fact that kids who are sunburned badly just once or twice before the age of 18 drastically increase their odds of developing skin cancer as adults.

  • But what if it’s cloudy out?

Then definitely wear sunscreen!

One of the oldest myths known to man is that you can’t get sunburned on a cloudy day. Even on the cloudiest day, 40 percent of the sun’s UVA/ UVB rays radiate to earth. In fact, these are the days where sun exposure is most dangerous. People skip sunscreen all together and end up with severe burns.

  • For maximum safety follow these  sun safe tips:

Stay indoors (or at least under a shaded tree) between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This is when the sun’s damaging rays are the most potent. If you can’t be indoors, cover up skin with light or sun protective clothing.

Be mindful of what you put into your body. Some common antibiotics increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun. OTC drugs like Advil, Motrin and Benadryl all increase photosensitivity.  Same goes for some herbal supplements – St. John’s Wort is a big culprit. Regular players in your normal beauty routine ( i.e. skin exfoliators) can also increase your chances of getting skin damage.

Even under shade or on a cloudy day wear sunscreen

Even on the cloudiest day, 40 percent of the sun’s UVA/ UVB rays radiate to earth. In fact, these are the days where sun exposure is most dangerous. As long as you are outdoors, wear sunscreen and don’t forget to apply to your kids too. (Shutterstock photos)

Reapply sunscreen every two hours. More if you’re swimming, sweating or perched on sand. Sand, just like water reflects the sun’s powerful rays – right onto your skin.

Eat foods that act as a sunscreen from the inside out! Foods such tomatoes, green tea, olive oil, dark leafy greens and dark chocolate all contain antioxidants like lycopene  that not just protect you from burning, but ward off skin cancer too.

On the flip side, skip foods that increase your chances of skin damage – like limes, parsley and sugar free-sweeteners can torch your skin. Thinking of sipping on a diet coke poolside? Skip it. Opt for water, which keeps your body hydrated (sun stroke, no thanks!) and does not increase your odds of roasting!

Do wear UVA/UVB protective sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat!

Don’t shrink away from bright, sunny days this season. Stay sun-safe with style, and you’re sure to be the brightest (not reddest) one on the beach!

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