Sun protection is crucial for the prevention of skin cancer and early signs of aging. Dr. Vince Bertucci, president of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, explains simple daily, monthly, and annual sun-safe tactics.
Vince Bertucci, M.D., FRCPC
President, American Society for Dermatological Surgery
Did you know skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, yet is easier to prevent and detect than most? These simple sun-safe behaviors can have a big impact for living in healthy skin.
1. Apply sunscreen daily
It may look like a dreary day, but that does not stop damaging UV light from penetrating through clouds and most windows. In fact, brief sun exposures throughout the years can add up to significant damage.
Sunscreen is best applied to all visible skin 15-30 minutes prior to sun exposure. Many people do not apply enough sunscreen (use a shot glass-sized amount for your body and one tablespoon for your face) or forget to reapply it every two hours, especially after sweating or swimming.
Be sure to read the instructions on the bottle or ask your dermatologist if you’re unsure how to apply it correctly. Using sunscreen can reduce the accumulation of chronic UV damage that is linked to non-melanoma skin cancer and early signs of aging. Today’s sunscreen is available in all different types (e.g., lotion, spray, powder) and formulations, having greatly improved over the thick and greasy substance you may remember.
2. Reduce sun exposure
Avoid being outside during the peak sun hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when you are most susceptible to damaging UV rays. Seek shade when you can from a tree, umbrella, tent, or building structure. If the sun is unavoidable, consider wearing sun-protective clothing, such as sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, or Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF)-rated clothing that block the sun’s harmful rays, even when you’re in the water!
Don’t let mild temperatures fool you either — UV intensity has more to do with the angle of the rays than the temperature or sun’s brightness. You’re not safe during the winter months either — snow reflects those damaging UV rays as well. Sun protection for skin and being sun safe is a year-round activity, no matter the season.
3. Know what to look for in self-exams
Most skin cancers are treatable when caught early, so it’s important to perform monthly self-exams and understand these key warning signs. Look for any new moles or changes to existing moles such as increasing size or changing color. Learn the ABCDEs of moles:
- Border irregularity
- Color variability
- Diameter larger than a pencil eraser
- Evolving or changing moles
Perform your self-exam in a well-lit, private room, and use a mirror for the hard-to-see areas. Examine your entire body and keep a notepad or digital note app nearby to jot down the date and details of anything you find. It will come in handy later when seeing your board-certified dermatologist for an annual skin check.
It is easier than ever to give yourself and your family added protection while enjoying the outdoors year round. Learn more and download a free sun safety kit at asds.net/sun-safety.