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Sun Safety: 5 Ways to Prevent Skin Cancer

skin cancer preventionIt’s summertime, hot and sunny, and most of us want to be outside. If you have children, you’ll probably be spending a lot of time outside – playing in the yard, taking your kids to the park, swimming pools, etc. But whenever you’re outside, you’ll want to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.

Although most of us don’t like to think about skin cancer, it’s an unfortunate reality. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S., and it’s also the most preventable. Over 3.5 million skin cancers are diagnosed each year, and what’s quite scary is that melanoma (the most serious and deathly form of skin cancer) is rising among young women. Experts blame this increase on more young women using tanning beds and tanning lamps, as well as tanning in the sun.

Be smart whenever you’re out in the sun and protect your skin. Here are five sun safety tips on how you can prevent skin cancer:

1. Avoid Tanning

One of the best preventative measures against skin cancer is to avoid tanning in general. Ultraviolet radiation is the #1 risk factor for developing melanoma and other skin cancers. Lying out in the sun for the purpose of tanning, and going to tanning salons put you at higher risk for skin cancer.

Tanning lights and tanning lamps emit UVA radiation that’s 2 to 5 times more than what you’d get from natural sunlight. The UVA and UVB radiation that you get from tanning lights has been linked to sunburn, skin cancer, and it causes your skin to age prematurely.

Sorry to tell you but there is no safe way to tan. The American Academy of Dermatology completely opposes indoor tanning, and is adamantly against minors using indoor tanning equipment.

2. Slather on the Sunscreen

If you’re going to be spending time outside, make sure that you use plenty of sunscreen. Make sure that you use a sunscreen that has a SPF of 15 or higher. A sunscreen with a SPF (sun protection factor) of less than 15 will not prevent sunburn or skin cancer. The higher the number the better. When choosing a sunscreen, you should look for ingredients, such as titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, cinoxate, avobenzone.

Starting next summer (2012), you’re going to start noticing sunscreens that are labeled “broad spectrum.” These sunscreens will protect you against UVA and UVB. Under the new rules, the FDA will make it illegal for sunscreen products to claim that they are “waterproof” or “sweatproof.”

For your own safety, make sure that you apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before you go outside. Reapply sunscreen every two hours (and apply more frequently if you’ll be swimming or you find yourself sweating). Reapply, reapply, reapply!

3. Avoid the Sun at Mid-Day

If you can avoid it, stay inside during the hours of 11 am and 4 pm. In the continental United States, during these midday hours, the sun’s UV rays are the strongest and most hazardous for your skin. (In North America, UV rays are the greatest during late spring and early summer.)

For people who must be outside, stay in the shade if you can. And make sure that you slather on the sunscreen.

You can reduce your risk of UV exposure and prevent skin cancer by staying underneath an umbrella, tree, or other type of shade. Not only will this keep you cooler, but it also gives you protection from harmful UV rays.

4. Wear Protective Clothing

In an ideal world, we would all wear long pants and long sleeved shirts whenever we go outside. We would wear dark colors, instead of light ones. But this isn’t practical, but there are a few types of accessories you can invest in to protect yourself from harmful UV rays.

Make sure that you invest in a good pair of sunglasses. The wrap-around sunglasses are the best, since they block UV rays from entering through the sides. But these types of sunglasses aren’t that stylish. Sunglasses, in general, will protect your eyes.

It’s also helpful if you wear a hat with a wide brim that shades your face, ears, and the back of your neck.

5. Watch Your Skin for Unusual Changes

Always pay attention to your moles and freckles. If you notice any changes – like a mole that appears out of nowhere, or a mole that begins to change – contact your doctor. You should be vigilant when it comes to cancer; earlier prevention improves your chances of a positive outcome.

According to the American Cancer Society, signs of skin cancer include:

• Any new skin change, like the size or color of a mole, freckle, or other dark pigmented spot.
• A new growth on your skin
• A bump or nodule on your skin starts to bleed, ooze, or become scaly.
• Pigmentation (dark coloring) that spreads past the border of a mole, freckle, or mark.
• Itchiness, tenderness or pain around a freckle or mole.

If you have any areas of your skin are bothering you, contact your doctor. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

About the author: DP Nguyen is founder and editor of Hip Chick’s Guide to PMS, Pregnancy and Babies. She’s an expert pregnancy and women’s health blogger. She is NOT a medical doctor and does NOT offer medical advice. Connect with her on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.

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    As a mom with fair skin and tons of freckles this is such a welcome reminder. It’s very easy to focus on protecting our kids’ skin and keeping them covered and reapplied, only to forget to take care of yourself. Just this morning I was wondering if I remembered to apply sunscreen to my back while we were at the beach. Great article.

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  • InSeason Mom Cynthia June 23, 2011, 1:00 pm

    DP, this is an informative article. Until last summer when I ended up with a tan/burn after staying in the hot Florida sunshine, this first time African-American mom over 40 didn’t believe she could get burn from the sun. Thanks to a recommendation of my Caucasian friend, I now use a sunscreen suited for my skin.

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