With the long, sunny days of summer right around the corner, don’t forget to prioritize healthy skin care.
Whether you’re heading out for a beach weekend, packing for Bonnaroo or planning play dates at the park, make sure to pack that sunscreen, protective lip balm, long-sleeved layers, and a floppy hat.
For all the joys of summer, the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun have a dark side. Too much exposure to UV rays is the main cause of skin cancer.
Skin cancer is no joke. It’s the most common type of cancer in the U.S. Consider the facts:
Skin cancer occurs as a result of uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells on the outermost skin layer, known as the epidermis. When these skin cells multiply quickly, they can cause malignant tumors.
Melanoma, the most dangerous kind of skin cancer, can spread to other parts of the body if left untreated, and may be untreatable.
Some people are more susceptible to skin cancer. People with lighter skin that tans or burns quickly are at greater risk. Those with a family history of skin cancer, or who have a number of moles on their body, should be extra diligent about skin care. Skin cancer can strike men or women, though melanoma strikes men harder.
And don’t even get us started on the dangers of tanning beds. Just, don’t.
The good news?
Skin cancer is largely preventable, especially if it’s caught early. The keys are to practice safe skin care habits, and check in annually with a dermatologist, particularly if you’re in a higher risk group.
Here are some skin care tips for summer to help keep the good times going while protecting yourself, too.
The best place to start with skin protection is by choosing—and using—sunscreen. Sunscreen protects the skin from the harmful effects of UV rays. Apply it regularly when you’re going outside in the summer, even if it’s cloudy. UV rays don’t go away if it’s not a sunny day.
Make sure to reapply sunscreen every couple of hours if you’re spending time outside, or more often than that when swimming or sweating a lot. No sunscreen is completely waterproof, so slap some more on after you towel off by the pool.
During the peak hours of summer, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m, seek shade. Not only will you avoid the worst of the sun’s direct rays during this time, you may be more comfortable lounging under a tree or beach umbrella. Wear protective clothing during this time too—long-sleeved shirts and pants and a wide-brimmed hat go a long way to protecting you from peak sun.
Stay hydrated when you’re outdoors, as dehydration can make your skin more vulnerable to damage from UV rays. Drink plenty of fluids, and don’t forget about your lips and eyes, too. They’re also vulnerable to sun damage, so wear a lip balm with SPF and sunglasses with UV protection, to minimize your risks.
When you’re outside, check your skin regularly to see how the sun is affecting you. Sun can make a quick impact. If your skin starts to itch or turns white when you press gently against it, you might want to seek some shelter. If nothing else, lather on some more sunscreen.
It’s smart to check your skin regularly in general, too, to look for any changes or irregularities that could be an early sign of skin cancer. Look for any new moles or growths, especially those that are red or swollen, and monitor existing moles for any changes in size, shape, color or texture.
If you notice anything unusual, see a dermatologist right away. Early detection is a key to successful treatments.
Choosing the right type of sunscreen for your skin type can go a long way toward reducing your risk of skin cancer.
Start by looking for a sunscreen with broad spectrum protection. This protects against the two main types of UV rays: UVA and UVB. While UVB rays cause sunburns, UVA rays cause longer-term skin damage.
Next check the sun protection factor, or SBF. This measures how well the sunscreen protects against UVB rays in particular. Don’t want a sunburn? The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends an SPF of at least 30 to protect against the majority of UVB rays.
If you have sensitive skin or are prone to breakouts or have sensitive skin, look for a sunscreen that’s labeled as “non-comedogenic,” or says on the label it’s for irritable skin. If your skin is naturally oily, choose a lightweight, oil-free formula.
You’ll also want to consider what’s most comfortable for your body. Sunscreens come in different textures—lotions, creams, gels, and sprays. Pick one that feels the best for your skin, and is easiest to apply. If you don’t like your sunscreen, it might be easier to ignore applying it. Just pick your favorite texture instead.
Finally, don’t forget the expiration dates. They matter. A sunscreen past its shelf life might not protect you to the level you want. Those sunscreens from last summer? Some of them may be nearly full, but if they’ve expired, toss them. Start anew.
Parents play a critical role in protecting their children’s skin from the harmful effects of the sun. Teach kids about the importance of sun safety from a young age, and you’ll help them build the right skin care habits for life.
A great way to start is by modeling the right behavior yourself. Make sure you’re following the skin care best practices such as reapplying sunscreen and wearing protective clothing.
When you’re playing outside with kids, switch the games to the shade during the peak of midday. And make skin safety fun! Gamify it. Incorporate playful protective clothing into your summer beach bags, bring games or instruments to play in the shade, treat sunscreen like a face-painting activity, or add snacks to the sun breaks to create positive associations.
Finally, remember children tend to be more active than adults, and may sweat or rub off sunscreen more frequently than you do. Reapply sunscreen on them more frequently than you might consider to do on yourself. Kids might not think about taking care of their own sunscreen habits, so lean in and lather it on.
When in doubt? Reapply. Use up that sunscreen.
It’s likely going to expire before next summer, anyway.