It’s official! Summer has arrived! And with summer, we have the beach and pool, barbecues and parties, baseball, bicycling, volleyball, and all kinds of other amazing outdoor activities that we spend the winter pining for. But along with all of that outdoor fun, comes the sun. I *love* spending time outside, but (not to be Debbie Downer) skin cancer is in my family, so I take a few precautions before heading out. Even if your family history doesn’t include the C word, you should still protect your skin. Sun exposure can lead to freckles, wrinkles, and discolored areas of skin. The sun’s UV light damages elastin and when these fibers break down, skin begins to sag, stretch, and lose the ability to go back into place after stretching. And nobody wants that. Here are some things you can do to protect your skin and enjoy your summer!
- The No. 1 rule of skin cancer prevention: Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF 30 or greater, blocking UVA and UVB rays) daily. Always apply 30 minutes prior to sun exposure and reapply every 2 hours or more often if you’re swimming and/or sweating. Sunscreen containing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide actually block the UV rays.
- Most people don’t apply enough sunscreen. Picture a shot glass. Go pull one out of the bar, if you have to. That’s how much sunscreen you need to apply to get adequate coverage.
- Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your ears, neck, and tops of hands and feet. They are the most commonly forgotten areas and burn quick.
- Avoid direct sun exposure during peak UV radiation hours (between 10:00am and 2:00pm). If you are outside, lounging at the beach, at least find you way under a nice umbrella. And maybe scope out a drink with an umbrella in it, too.
Eat Your Protection
- You can help protect your skin from the inside out. Eat a diet with a variety of antioxidant rich foods including colorful fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants help prevent and repair damage to your body’s tissue. And what is sunburn/tan? It is an inflammation of the skin due to overexposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun. (Doesn’t sound too good like that does it?) Vitamins A, C, E, and the mineral selenium are thought to be helpful for the skin. They all fight free radicals; vitamins A and C encourage cell and tissue regrowth, helping the body repair itself.
- Some antioxidant rich foods include: spinach, kale, swiss chard, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, green tea, spirulina, dark chocolate (2 oz. of the good stuff daily!), pomegranates, berries, kiwi, papaya, citrus fruit.
Clothing and Accessories
- You know that poor pale kid that you see in the water at the beach in a soaking white T-shirt? He’s actually onto something. All fabric disrupts UV radiation to some degree, but clothes with a UPF rating of 15-50 does the best job of it. Not everyone needs to wear special clothing, but it is something to consider if you’re fair skinned or sun-sensitive, children are good candidates, and people spending time at a high elevation, in equatorial regions, or on reflective surfaces (think snow, sand, and water). While the pasty kid at the beach has the right idea, he isn’t doing too terribly much good in that white T-shirt: it only fall between UPF 5 and UPF 8, so it can let through as much at 20% UV radiation.
- Protect your face, ears, and neck with a wide brimmed hat. There are so many fun options for hats! I always have a baseball hat in my truck, but (admittedly) that’s really not the best option for sun protection. The wide brimmed, floppy hat not really your thing? Check out the sporty bucket hats that have UPF protection! I have one with UPF 50 and love it. I also love sporting one of my straw cowboy hats.
- Please, please, please protect your eyes! Sunglasses with UV protection are a must for protecting your eyes from the UV light that’s not just glaring down from the sun, but also bouncing off the sand and water into your eyes. You can even find contact lenses with UV protection.
Okay, I know we don’t really want to talk about the C word (ssssh… cancer), but here are a couple important points.
- If a close relative has had breast or ovarian cancer (studies have shown that people with the gene mutation that ups your hereditary risk for these cancers also makes you more likely to develop melanoma) or has had melanoma, see a dermatologist 1-2 times a year for a skin screening and be sun smart.
- Do your own skin screenings in addition to seeing a dermatologist to familiarize yourself with existing moles and marks and to notice any changes or new growths. Do not hesitate to contact your doctor if you have any concerns. Do not ignore any part of your body: melanoma most often occurs in places that you’ve been burnt, but can show up anywhere (including hard to imagine places like under your nails).