Ultimate Summer Skin Cancer Protection Tips
Summer is here and it’s time to soak up the sun! But before you head outside, it’s important to protect and prevent skin cancer this summer from skin sun damage. Overexposure to UV radiation from the sun is the #1 cause of skin cancer, which is the most common cancer in the United States.
While some sun exposure is healthy for vitamin D production, too much can lead to premature aging and wrinkles, sunburns, and skin cancer. Follow these ultimate summer skin cancer protection tips to keep your skin looking healthy and youthful all season long!
Understand UV Radiation
There are two types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation that damage skin – UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays are the main cause of sunburns and directly damage skin cells’ DNA, leading to skin cancer. UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin, causing premature aging and wrinkling. Both types of rays cause damage, so it’s essential to protect against both UVA and UVB.
Look for broad-spectrum protection on sunscreen labels, which indicates protection against UVA and UVB rays. Sun protection clothing and accessories like hats and sunglasses should also block both UVA and UVB radiation. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends using broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, which blocks over 90% of UVB rays.
Choose the Right Sunscreen
With so many sunscreen options on the market, it can be confusing to pick the right one. Here are tips for choosing effective sunscreen:
- Broad-spectrum: Protects against both UVA and UVB rays
- SPF 30+: Blocks 97% of UVB rays
- Water-resistant: Won’t wash off when swimming or sweating
- Non-comedogenic: Won’t clog pores and cause breakouts
- Reapply often: Sunscreens start to lose effectiveness after a few hours
For the face, look for oil-free sunscreens formulated for the face to avoid clogged pores. Creams are best for dry skin, while gels and sprays work well for oily and acne-prone skin. Stick or powder sunscreens are great for reapplying over makeup. Always check expiration dates and store sunscreen properly to maintain effectiveness.
Apply Enough Sunscreen
Many people don’t apply enough sunscreen to get the full SPF benefit. Adults need about 1 ounce of sunscreen, or enough to fill a shot glass, to cover their whole body properly. Apply sunscreen liberally 15 minutes before sun exposure and reapply every 2 hours, or immediately after swimming or sweating heavily. Pay extra attention to commonly missed spots like ears, lips, tops of feet, and back of neck.
Seek Shade and Cover Up
When possible, seek shade under trees, umbrellas, or buildings during peak sun hours between 10am and 4pm. UV rays are strongest during this time. Wear tightly woven, loose-fitting clothing that covers as much skin as possible. Wide brim hats protect the face, ears, and neck. Sunglasses with UV protection help prevent eye damage and skin cancers around the eyes.
Skip the Tanning Beds
Many people use tanning beds to get a base tan before summer, but this causes significant skin damage and increases skin cancer risk. Tanning beds give off intense UV radiation, often stronger than the mid-day sun. The US Department of Health urges people to avoid indoor tanning altogether. Embrace your natural skin tone and use self-tanning lotions for a safe “tan” without UV damage.
Examine Skin Regularly
Get in the habit of doing regular at-home skin checks and seeing a dermatologist annually. Look for any new or changing moles or spots, especially ones that are asymmetrical, have irregular borders, are more than one color, or are larger than a pencil eraser. Early detection is key for treating skin cancer successfully. Let your doctor know if you have a family history of skin cancer.
Extra Tips for Sensitive Skin
If you have very fair skin, freckles easily, or burn more than tan, take extra precautions in the sun. Stay in the shade as much as possible, wear protective clothing and a wide-brim hat, and choose a sunscreen made for sensitive skin. Look for physical sunscreen ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which sit on top of skin and reflect UV rays.
Certain medications can also increase sun sensitivity, like antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and acne medications. Ask your doctor about any increased risks with medications you take. Some skin conditions like lupus are very sensitive to sunlight, so take extra precautions.
Protect Kids from the Sun
Children’s skin is delicate and easily damaged by the sun. Take extra steps to protect kids when outdoors:
- Dress infants in lightweight, protective clothing with wide-brim hats. Use strollers with sun shades.
- Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 to exposed skin. For babies under 6 months, consult a pediatrician first.
- Limit time outdoors during peak sun hours as much as possible.
- Teach kids the importance of sun safety and set a good example by practicing sun protection yourself.
- Provide shady play areas and encourage regular sunscreen reapplication.
Installing shade structures at schools and parks helps protect all kids. Examine children’s skin regularly for any new moles or unusual spots. Lifelong sun protection habits start in childhood.
Prevent Sun Damage on the Scalp
Many people forget to protect their scalp from the sun, leading to increased risk of skin cancer on the head and neck. Bald areas or thinning hair provide less natural protection. Apply SPF 30 sunscreen to exposed scalp or wear a wide-brim hat to cover the head and shade the face. Look for lightweight sun protective hats designed for athletic activities like baseball, golf, and hiking.
Protect Your Skin While Exercising Outdoors
Don’t let sun protection slide just because you’ll be active and sweating. Reapply water-resistant sunscreen before any prolonged outdoor exercise like running, tennis, yardwork, or water sports. Seek shade when possible – run early in the morning or later afternoon when UV rays are less intense. Wear sunglasses, sun-protective clothing, and a ventilated hat. Stay hydrated!
Practice Safe Sun at the Beach
A day at the beach or pool deserves extra sun protection. Water, sand, and snow reflect up to 85% of UV radiation, increasing exposure. Reapply water-resistant sunscreen frequently, at least every 2 hours. Wear a rash guard, sun protective swim shirt, or swim leggings for more coverage. Seek shade under umbrellas. Pack sun protection essentials like broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen, lip balm, UV-blocking sunglasses, and protective hats. Stay hydrated and take breaks from the sun.
Choose Sun-Safe Outdoor Activities
Some summer activities are safer than others when it comes to sun protection. Prioritize these:
- Early morning or late afternoon exercise/activities when UV rays are less intense
- Water sports like swimming, waterskiing, surfing – water reflects UV radiation
- Tennis, volleyball and other outdoor sports – wear SPF protective clothing/hats
- Sailing, kayaking, canoeing – reflection from water increases exposure
- Golfing – wear long-sleeved shirts, hats, use golf carts with shade covers
- Hiking, camping – control exertion and reapply sunscreen; wear hats and sun-protective clothing
Avoid sunbathing, which offers no health benefits and directly exposes skin to UV damage. Seek shade whenever possible!
Protect Skin in Higher Altitudes
UV exposure increases about 4% for every 1,000 ft gain in elevation. In higher altitude locales, snow and water reflection also intensify sun exposure. Wear sun-protective clothing, apply SPF 30 sunscreen amply and often, and limit time in direct sun. Sun protection is especially vital when skiing, mountaineering, or enjoying other outdoor activities at high altitudes.
Beware of Sun Exposure on Cloudy Days
Don’t be fooled into thinking clouds provide adequate sun protection. Up to 80% of UV rays can penetrate through cloud cover. It’s easy to underestimate and overexpose your skin on cloudy or hazy days. Follow the same sun protection guidelines as on sunny days – wear sunscreen, protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses when spending time outdoors.
Protect Skin While Driving
UV rays can penetrate through car windows and exposed hands and arms while driving are vulnerable to sun damage. Apply sunscreen amply to hands and arms and reapply every 2 hours. Wear UV-blocking sunglasses and a sun visor or hat to shade your face. Cracking the window doesn’t provide adequate airflow to offset heat risk, so turn on the AC instead. Install UV-protective window film if spending a lot of time driving.
See a Dermatologist Annually
Schedule an annual skin exam with a board-certified dermatologist, even if you don’t have specific concerns. A dermatologist can scan your entire body for any suspicious moles or spots that could indicate skin cancer. Early detection makes skin cancer highly treatable. Tell your dermatologist about any sun exposure, family history of skin cancer, or skin changes you’ve noticed. Self-examine monthly too.
Embrace Sun Protection Fashion
Wearing sun-protective clothing doesn’t have to mean overheating in heavy fabrics. Today’s innovative textiles offer lightweight, breathable options with built-in UV protection. Look for sun-protective shirts, pants, dresses, hats, and accessories made from fabrics like UPF 50+ treated polyester and nylon. Popular athletic brands now make UV-blocking clothes suited for active lifestyles. Let your unique style shine through while keeping skin safe.
Use Sunscreen Correctly
Applying sunscreen seems simple, but many people make mistakes that lower effectiveness:
- Don’t skimp: Apply the recommended 1 ounce to cover all exposed skin
- Apply 15 minutes before sun: Give it time to absorb properly into skin
- Miss easy-to-forget spots: Like tops of ears, feet, back of neck, scalp if thinning hair
- Apply too infrequently: Reapply every 2 hours and immediately after swimming/sweating
- Use too little: Apply too thinly or miss spots entirely
- Use old sunscreen: Check dates and store properly to maintain effectiveness
Take the time to apply sunscreen correctly before heading out – your skin will thank you!
Sun Protection Myths
There are many myths and misconceptions about sun protection. Don’t fall for these false claims:
- “Base tans” from tanning beds protect against sunburn – False! All UV exposure causes skin damage and increases skin cancer risk.
- Clouds block all UV rays – False! Up to 80% of UV radiation penetrates clouds.
- SPF 100 is twice as effective as SPF 50 – False! SPF 50 already blocks 98% of UVB rays. Higher SPF provides minimal extra protection.
- Applying sunscreen under makeup is enough – False! Reapply sunscreen over makeup every 2 hours.
- There is no sun damage in the winter – False! Reflecting snow intensifies UV exposure.
Make Sun Protection Part of Your Routine
Regular sun protection should become an everyday habit, not just an afterthought when out in the sun. Keep sunscreen by your bathroom and vanity so it’s readily available. Get in the habit of applying it as part of your morning self-care routine, before makeup and getting dressed. Keep sunscreen in your bag, car, and office so you can reapply throughout the day. Wearing wide-brim hats and UV-blocking sunglasses whenever outside should become automatic. See your dermatologist once a year. Make sun protection second nature!
Enjoy the Outdoors Safely
With proper sun precautions, you can fully enjoy your favorite summer activities outdoors. Don’t let fears of sun exposure keep you indoors. Using these ultimate summer skin cancer protection tips, you can play at the pool, lounge at the beach, hike, bike, picnic, and garden while protecting your skin from sun damage. Simple strategies like sunscreen, hats, shade, and sun-protective clothing are easy and effective. Be vigilant about sun safety for you and your family to prevent sunburns, premature aging, and skin cancer. Follow these tips for a fun-filled summer protecting your skin health and appearance!