Did you know
skin cancer is the most common of all cancers? Each year in the U.S.,
more than 5.4 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer are treated in more
than 3.3 million people. While summer is a wonderful time of year, the heat and sun can take a
nasty toll on your skin, hair, and body. Overexposure to sunshine can
cause several problems—from skin cancer to eye complications, age
spots to wrinkles.
That’s not to say you should spend all summer indoors and refrain
from fun! With a few special precautions, you can enjoy summer to its
fullest while protecting the skin you’re in.
Layer on the Sunscreen. This is the No. 1 preventive measure for sun protection. Sunscreen isn’t
just for the beach. Every morning before you leave the house, apply about
1 ounce of sunscreen to your entire body. For normal sun exposure, use
a broad-spectrum sunblock with an SPF of 15 or higher. If you’re
planning to be outside in the sunshine, reapply every two hours. (For
more tips on choosing the right sunscreen,
check out this article.)
Drink Lots of Water. The more time you spend in the heat and sun, the more you sweat and the
higher your chances of dehydration. Make sure you’re combatting
the heat by drinking at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day
or more if you’re spending a lot of time outdoors. Don’t wait
until you’re thirsty to drink. Help your body sweat and cool down
by drinking water frequently.
Seek Shade. You can still enjoy the summer outdoors while staying out of the sun.
Find a cool place to hang out in the shade—under an umbrella or
beach tent, beneath a tree, under a covered porch or awning—especially
during peak burning hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun is
the strongest. Don’t be fooled on a cloudy day. The sun can still
damage your skin even when you can’t see it.
Exfoliate, Exfoliate, Exfoliate. Scrub away dry, dead skin as often as possible. Exfoliating improves your
skin’s condition by preventing congestion and dehydration. Exfoliating
regularly, especially during the summer months when heat and sun quickly
damage delicate skin, ensures that your skin remains healthy and strong.
Look for natural exfoliators and apply a hydrating moisturizer immediately after.
Don’t Forget to Moisturize. Apply an FDA-approved moisturizer immediately after skin is exposed to
sun, after you exfoliate, and when you get out of the shower. If you’re
suffering from dry skin, try a moisturizing sunscreen. Popular ones include
lanolin, oils, and silicones like dimethicone. These come in creams, lotions,
Properly Treat Sunburns and Other Sun Damage. If you’re suffering from a sunburn, it may take several days for
your skin to heal. In the meantime, take an over-the-counter pain reliever,
if needed, such as Ibuprofen or Aleve to control pain and swelling. Cool
your skin with a cold bath or apply a clean damp towel. Rehydrate by applying
plenty of moisturizer and drinking lots of water. Leave small blisters
alone, and do not pull on peeling skin. Protect yourself from further
exposure by staying out of the sun, and avoid any “-caine”
products, including benzocaine, which may irritate the skin more. Continue
Wear UVA-Protective Clothing and Accessories. Consider clothing that covers your skin to protect you from UV rays. Your
head and ears are often vulnerable, so wear a hat and add sunscreen to
your ears, face, and neck, even on cloudy days. The more of the eyes you
cover with sunglasses, the better. All sunglasses should block out at
least 99% of UV light. Be extra careful when you’re near a reflective
surface like water or sand, too. These damaging, reflective rays can not
only cause sunburns but eye irritations as well.
Fully Protect the Lips.
The lips are a common site for skin and lip cancer. They’re often exposed to the sun for extended periods, or we forget
to put sunscreen or balm on that area. Fully protect your lips by wearing
lip-specific products with SPF 15 or higher—SPF 30 or higher if
you have a history of lip and skin cancer. Apply every two hours or so
like you would use sunscreen, and avoid high-shine lip gloss, petroleum
jelly, or baby oil while in the sun.
Opt for Sunless Tanning Products Instead. Still want that perfect summer tan? Safely coat your skin with color
by using sunless tanning products like lotions, creams, gels, and spray
foams. Be sure to read labels carefully and stay away from any products
not approved by the FDA—the FDA requires tanning products without
sunscreen to contain a warning stating that it doesn’t protect against
sunburn. Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps altogether, both of which can
cause severe long-term damage and potentially lead to skin cancer.
Look Out for the Entire Family. Children, especially, need special attention since they tend to spend more
time outdoors and can burn more easily. If you’re a parent or guardian
who cares for a child, make sure they wear clothes, hats, sunglasses,
and sunscreen to protect them from harmful UV rays.
When to See Your Doctor
The great thing about a self-exam is you can do it anytime and anywhere.
It’s essential to check your skin each month to look for signs of
skin cancer, especially during summer. Spend a fair amount of time carefully
looking at the entire surface of your skin—from your scalp to your
fingernails, to the soles of your feet. Learning the patterns of every
mole, blemish, freckle, and mark on your skin will help you track changes
Any problem areas or changes should be examined by a doctor, especially
if they just appeared or have changed rapidly or recently. The most important
warning sign of
melanoma is a new spot or a spot that’s changed in size, shape, or color.
Here’s a solid tip to make it easy to know when you should
call your doctor. It’s called the
A is for Asymmetry: Look out for one half of a mole or birthmark that doesn’t match
B is for Border: Are the edges irregular, ragged, blurred, or notched? This could be cause
C is for Color: If the color isn’t the same all over, or includes shades of brown
or black or patches of pink, red, white, or blue, tell your doctor immediately.
D is for Diameter: If the spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about ¼-inch
the size of a pencil eraser), it could be melanoma. Keep in mind that
sometimes melanomas are even smaller than this.
E is for Evolving: The mole is changing in size, color, or shape.
Not all melanomas fit this rule, so it’s important to tell your doctor
about any changes in skin markings or new spots. Other warning signs of
skin cancer may include:
- A sore that doesn’t heal
- The spread of pigment from the border of the spot into the surrounding skin
- Redness or swelling beyond the border of the mole
- Change in sensation (itchiness, tenderness, or pain, for example)
- Change in the mole surface
Save Your Skin
Your skin is the largest and fastest-growing organ on your body. It’s
your body’s coat. It protects you. It helps to regulate your body
temperature, shelters your internal organs, and prevents unwanted dirt,
debris, and germs from getting in. Take care of it by developing safe
summer skincare habits and discussing any irregularities with your doctor.
If you’re experiencing any of the signs or symptoms mentioned in
the previous section of this article, it’s important to
schedule an appointment with your primary care provider today. Or, consider a preventive dermatologist
appointment. A dermatologist can perform a routine, full-body skin exam
to determine if any moles, growths, or legions look suspicious or could
be a risk factor for skin cancer. The exam only takes a few minutes, and
your dermatologist may biopsy suspicious-looking growths, if necessary.
And don’t forget—sunburns fade, but the damage to the skin’s
layers remains. This damage adds up and can cause cancer over time. That’s
why summer skin care should last a lifetime.