One of the reasons we live in Arizona is to enjoy the great weather and outdoor activities that we love. But it’s important to remember your skin as you make plans for fun – especially with the more intense summer sun.
Not to be a summer-fun sponge, but skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. An estimated one in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives and that more than 9,700 Americans will die in 2017 from melanoma – the most dangerous type of skin cancer. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun significantly increases your risk of developing skin cancer.
Fortunately, it’s not difficult, expensive or time-consuming to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. Heed these skin-cancer-prevention commandments this summer (actually, year-round) and your risks will plummet!
1: Slather On
We’re talking about sunscreen, of course. Our physicians recommend using a sunscreen lotion because it’s easy to see where you’ve applied it. Also, don’t rub it in all the way so a light layer is left on the skin that will be absorbed into the lower layers of skin. It is important that you use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 as much as possible, keeping in mind that we’re exposed to UV rays during everyday activities like driving – the sun can reach areas like your arm closest to the window, the side of your face, neck, lips, and tops of the hands. Altitude is also important to consider. If you live in the mountains, it’s even easier to get sunburned in a shorter time than when you’re at a lower altitude.
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends using SPF 30 or higher for extended or intense sun exposure; however, experts agree there’s no significant benefit to applying a sunscreen rated higher than SPF 50. SPF refers to a sunscreen’s ability to filter harmful UVB rays that cause sunburns. Ideally, choose a sunscreen marked “broad-spectrum” because it also filters UVA rays, which are responsible for premature aging.
Apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going outside.
Be sure to apply enough sunscreen (two tablespoons, roughly the amount a shot glass holds) to cover the body sufficiently. Apply it 15 minutes before you go outside, so your skin has time to absorb it. Then, reapply every couple of hours, more often if you’re sweating or swimming. Read our blog about How to Read Sunscreen Labels for additional information and tips on sunscreen.
2: Cover Up
Even more effective than wearing sunscreen is covering your skin. Wear UV-filtering sunglasses to protect your eyes; a broad-brimmed hat to protect your scalp, face and neck; and as much clothing as you can tolerate! Better yet, wear sun-protection clothing. This is clothing made from fabric that blocks UV rays. Sun protection clothing is labeled with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating ranging from 15 (good) to 50+ (excellent.) If you don’t have appropriate sun protection clothing for things like jogging or running errands, the American Cancer Society recommends wearing dark clothing rather than lighter ones to help protect your skin from UV rays. Tightly woven fabric can also help protect better than loosely woven clothing.
3: Watch the Clock
The sun’s rays are most intense between the hours of 10am and 4pm If you can schedule your outdoor activities for mornings and late afternoons, you’ll reduce UV exposure, and you’ll probably find it more pleasant to be outside. And if you are outdoors during the peak time, try to find shade. Another smart way to determine when you should avoid the sun is to check the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s UV Index forecast here.
4: Check In With Your Skin
No one is more familiar with your body than you are. Taking the time to conduct skin self-examinations gives you the ability to spot changes that could be cancerous or precancerous. Don’t forget about the hard-to-see spots like your back, scalp, tops of your ears or eyelids. Ask a friend or family member if they wouldn’t mind taking a look at those areas for you, so that no spots are missed.
Don’t forget to check spots like your back, scalp, tops of your ears or eyelids.
As it is with many types of cancer, when identified early, skin cancer can be treated successfully, with fewer lasting side effects. The longer it remains undetected, the deeper the surgery will go to remove the cancer and the area around it. That can lead to scarring or additional surgeries with a plastic surgeon. If the cancer is left without any detection it could develop into a cancer that can lead to death. Visit the Skin Cancer Foundation for a step-by-step self-examination how-to guide.
There is no need to fear the sun. Sunlight produces vitamin D, which is critical to bone health. Research indicates that not getting enough vitamin D can increase the risks of several serious diseases, including some cancers. One of the best ways to get this essential nutrient is through your diet. Sunlight is also believed to be a mood-booster. By all means, enjoy one of the great reasons you live in Arizona! Just do so in moderation and after taking precautions to protect your skin.
If you notice any changes in your skin, it’s best to visit your doctor or dermatologist. Arizona Oncology has 15+ locations in and around Northern Arizona, Southern Arizona, and Phoenix – including the East Valley and West Valley areas – if your provider determines a referral is needed.