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Consider your five closest friends. On average, one of them is going to get cancer of their largest organ – the skin. One American dies of melanoma, the fiercest form of skin cancer, every hour.
It really is a matter of life and death that we protect ourselves against the most common cause of skin cancer – the harmful rays of the sun. (About 90 percent of skin cancers are caused by sun damage; about 10 percent are genetic.)
Dr. Kara Addison, a dermatological Nurse Practitioner and Doctor of Nursing Practice at Associated Dermatology and Skin Care Clinic of Helena, says protecting your skin from the sun is easy, as long as you plan ahead. These are her top 8 tips for protecting against sun exposure.
- Be Sun Smart. It’s great to be outside in the sunshine and fresh air. The sun helps us produce Vitamin D. But after 15-20 minutes, the sun’s UV rays become harmful to our skin. Recognizing that, and understanding that a “tan” is evidence of sun damage, are the first steps to protecting skin against the sun’s harmful rays.
- Avoid the worst sun exposure. To the extent possible, stay out of the sun during its apex – 11:00 to 5:00 during Daylight Savings Time. (That’s 10-4 in sun time.) That doesn’t mean you need to cloister yourself indoors; finding shade is a useful alternative.
- Wear clothing that protects you. OK, staying out of the sun most of the day during our short Montana summers is not really a viable option. There’s too much to do outdoors and too little time. So do the next best thing: wear special protective UPF clothing that blocks out most of the sun’s rays. A UPF rating of 25 means 1/25th of the UV rays will get through. Find the highest rating you can for maximum protection. Protective clothing can actually keep your body cooler than no clothing because your skin remains in the shade.
- Wear a hat. Hats with three-inch brims protect the top of your head, face and neck – the most common skin cancer sites. Most people don’t think about the tops of their heads, but your hair is a weak skin protection system from the sun.
- Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. When you’re outside, even when it’s cloudy, protect your skin by administering a liberal amount of broad spectrum sunscreen of 30 SPF or higher on all exposed parts of your body. “Don’t forget your ears, hands, elbows, top of your head and backs of your legs,” says Dr. Addison. For complete protection, you need to apply at least one fluid ounce to cover your entire body 30 minutes before exposure to the sun. If you have light skin, 50+ SPF provides slightly more protection.
- Apply it again! Sunscreen loses its potency after 80 minutes, so you need to reapply it about every two hours.
- Say no to tanning. A tan is your skin’s way of saying “ouch.” There is no good tanning, and that goes double for tanning beds. If your heart is set on having skin with a brownish glow, try a sunless tanning screen or spray. But don’t stop using sunscreen in the sun.
- See your dermatologist. Because sun damage to skin is so prevalent, adults should see their dermatologist once a year. If you notice a red, scaly area that isn’t healing, or have moles getting larger or changing color, see your dermatologist right away.
Has it been a long time since you’ve seen a dermatologist? Contact Associated Dermatology and Skin Care of Helena to make an appointment. Call (408) 442-3534 or visit AssociatedDermHelena.com.