Warmer weather means more time outside and whether it’s yard work, a backyard barbecue or a day at the beach it’s important to take steps to protect yourself from harmful ultraviolet or (UV) radiation. UV radiation comes from the sun in the form of UVA rays (responsible for wrinkles, age spots and more) and UVB rays (responsible for sunburns). Both penetrate your skin, and can cause DNA damage at a cellular level that, over time, can lead to skin cancer.
While there are treatments available, experts agree that taking steps to limit your exposure and learning how to avoid skin cancer in the first place are the best options to protect yourself.
How to Avoid Skin Cancer
1) Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher
A broad-spectrum sun block offers protection from both UVB and UVA rays. If your sunscreen isn’t a broad-spectrum product you’re only getting protection from UVB rays which may increase your risk. Only products that meet FDA regulations for blocking both UVA and UVB can use the term “broad spectrum” on their label. Broad spectrum sunscreens protect you against all types of sun-induced skin damage and will be labeled “Broad Spectrum” and “SPF 15” (or higher) on the front.
2) Avoid direct sunlight during peak times
If you can avoid direct sunlight between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., do it. This is when the sun’s rays are strongest. Checking the daily UV index for your area is also a good habit and can help you avoid especially dangers periods of exposure.
The Environmental Protection Agency maintains an online resource called the SunWise Program which provides the UVindex forecast for your area. You can even sign up for a free UV Alert to receive email notifications when the risk of overexposure is greater than normal.
3) Wear protective clothing when possible
One of the very best ways to reduce your risk of exposure to UV radiation is to keep your skin covered. Long sleeves, tightly woven shirts and pants, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses that wrap around are a few good options for sun protection. The type of fabric, color and density can affect the level of protection you’ll get from your clothing.
It’s important to note that even though you can have clothing covering your entire body…
“…if the sun goes right through it, it’s not much use. Fabrics are made of tiny fibers woven or knitted together. Under a microscope, we can see lots of spaces between the fibers; UV can pass directly through these holes to reach the skin. The tighter the knit or weave, the smaller the holes and the less UV can get through.” – SkinCancer.org
For the best protection there are specific Sun Protective Clothing lines available that use a UPF rating which is similar to the SPF rating seen on suncreens,…
… in that both UPF and SPF measure sunburn protection. One difference between UPF ratings and SPF ratings is that UPF measures both UVB and UVA radiation blocked. SPF is a measurement of UVB radiation only. – Melanoma Foundation
4) When Applying Sunscreen Timing is Everything
Experts advise that you use sunscreen daily if you’re going to be in the sun for 20 minutes or more. For maximum protection apply a liberal amount of sunscreen to your dry skin about 30 minutes before you go out. Reapply the same amount every two hours and immediately after swimming or sweating. Take care to cover all exposed skin.
Now that your skin is protected it’s time to take care of your lips and eyes. Use an SPF lip balm to protect your lips and wrap-around sunglasses, labeled as blocking 99-100% of UV rays, to protect your eyes.
5) Use sunscreen even when it’s not sunny or your inside
UV rays can still be strong on cloudy and overcast days so don’t skimp on sunscreen. It’s also important to remember that water, snow, concrete and other surfaces can reflect and intensify the sun’s rays. If you sit near a window or do a lot of driving you’ll want to protect yourself because while…
“…UVB is effectively blocked by glass. At least 50 percent of UVA radiation can pass through windows. (Car windows have been proven to let in more than 60 percent.) – SkinCancer.Org
Following these simple tips can help you reduce your risk of exposure to harmful UV rays while you’re enjoying your fun in the sun this year. Now that you know how to avoid skin cancer share these tips with friends, members of your family and other people you care about.
For More Information
FDA Sunscreen Labeling Provisions
Sun Safety Tips for Infants, Babies and Toddlers
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