The National Cancer Institute notes that skin cancer is the most common type in the United States. Yet spending time outdoors is great for both your mental and physical health. According to the American Psychological Association, just being in nature can dramatically lower stress levels and improve cognitive functioning. And the great outdoors is a beautiful place to get the 150 minutes of weekly exercise that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.
So how can you gain all the benefits of spending time outside while lowering your risks? Here are a few skin cancer prevention tips.
Understand your personal risk factors
Although anyone can develop skin cancer, some people are at higher risk. The more risk factors you have, the greater your risk.
- Gender. Men are more likely to develop skin cancer than women.
- Age. Most skin cancers are due to a lifetime accumulation of ultraviolet (UV) light exposure. Therefore, risks tend to climb as you get older.
- Complexion. People with fair skin that tends to burn rather than tan are at greatest risk for skin cancer. This is especially true if you also have red or blonde hair and light eyes.
- Previous sunburns. Sunburns can do long-term damage to your skin, eventually resulting in skin cancer. The more sunburns in your past, the higher your risk.
- Moles. You may be more prone to skin cancer if you have multiple moles. Keep an eye on them to look for any changes.
- Family history. Skin cancer sometimes runs in families. Your risk may be higher if anyone in your family has a history of skin cancer, other types of cancer, or unusual moles.
- Overall cancer risks. Some factors raise your risk of all types of cancer, including skin cancer. These include being overweight, smoking, eating poorly, and not getting enough exercise. Talk to your doctor about how to lower your overall risk of developing cancer.
Limit sun exposure
Try to avoid being outside between 10 am and 4 pm, when the sun’s rays are their most potent. If you must go out, limit how much of your skin is directly exposed to the sun. Choose lightweight, long-sleeved shirts and long pants whenever possible. And don’t forget your sunglasses and hat! The best sunglasses are rated UV 400, which blocks 100% of UVA and UVB rays. Wide-brimmed hats provide the most protection, though baseball caps will help to protect your face.
Use high-SPF sunscreen
Whenever you go outside, apply broad-spectrum sunscreen. This will protect your skin against both UVA and UVB rays. Make sure the sun protection factor (SPF) is at least 15. Reapply every two hours or more often if you are profusely sweating. Even if the sunscreen is labeled waterproof, it’s smart to apply more after coming out of the water and toweling dry.
Don’t forget about your lips and eyelids. Choose a high SPF lip balm and reapply it every two hours, as well as after swimming or eating. If you’re not wearing sunglasses, choose an eyeshadow or eye cream that contains sunscreen. Or very carefully apply plain zinc oxide to your eyelids, making sure not to get it in your eyes.
The sun’s rays can easily penetrate through clouds. Even on a cloudy day, be sure to use sunscreen. You can also take skin damage in the car, especially on long road trips when the sun continually beats on one side of your body.
Stay in the shade
Shade is no substitute for covering up and using sunscreen. But it adds another layer of protection for your skin. Whenever possible, stand or sit underneath trees or even the shadow of a building. Consider carrying an umbrella when heading to an area with little or no shade. If you’re planning an outdoor event during daylight hours, it’s smart to provide tents or other areas for guests to get out of the direct sun.
Skip the tanning bed
A tan is not a sign of good health, so skipping the sun’s rays is one of the best skin cancer prevention hacks. It’s a sign of serious skin damage. And indoor tanning beds and booths are especially damaging because they expose your skin to dangerous UV rays. If you enjoy that sun-kissed look, numerous bronzing creams and other products on the market today provide a natural tanned look without damage. Or you could show off your own natural, healthy complexion.
Talk to your doctor
Some medications, as well as some underlying medical conditions, can cause increased sensitivity to the sun. In addition, your doctor knows your individual risk factors and lifestyle. They are best suited to help you understand your personal risks and to offer tips that will help protect your skin without cramping your style.
It’s also essential to see a dermatologist once a year. Most skin cancers are easily treatable when caught early, without scarring or future problems. But the longer they go untreated, the more problematic they can become. And some types of skin cancer can turn deadly if not treated as soon as possible. Keep an eye on your skin and that of your loved ones, and make a dermatologist appointment immediately if you notice any unusual changes.
Skin cancer prevention: Summing it all up
Skin cancer is the leading type of cancer in the United States, but that doesn’t mean everyone will get it. Personal risk factors play a vital role, from the things you can control (such as diet and exercise) to what you were born with (such as a fair complexion and red or blonde hair). But the best way to reduce your risk of skin cancer, regardless of personal history, is to limit your skin’s exposure to the sun.
Use a multilayered system of protection that includes shade, clothing, sunscreen, and accessories such as a hat and sunglasses. Whenever possible, avoid being outdoors between 10 am and 4 pm. And be sure to talk to your doctor about your risks and lifestyle considerations. Also, see a dermatologist once a year, and you will be well on your way to preventing skin cancer.