Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. One in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime. This May, observe Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month by practicing “safe sun”! The American Cancer Society’s Slip! Slop! Slap!® and Wrap campaign slogan provides an easy way to remember the 4 key steps to sun protection.
SLIP ON A SHIRT
Although most of us visualize a bottle of sunscreen when we think about sun protection, don’t underestimate the power of the shirt on your back! Long sleeves and pants in densely woven fabrics and dark colors are best, but when these fabrics get wet, the level of sun protection can be reduced dramatically.
In the summer months when the heat is high, one great solution is to wear clothing with UV filters incorporated directly into the fabric. This clothing will not lose its sun protection even when wet and offers a terrific option for swimming and outdoor exercise. The breathable and ventilated fabrics will keep you feeling and looking cool this summer! Sun protective clothing (look for UPF50+) is widely available from specialty outfitters like Solumbra, Coolibar, L.L. Bean and Land’s End, as well as larger retailers like Target and Walmart.
SLOP ON SUNCREEN
It is important to read the label on your sunscreen and make sure it is “broad spectrum” (meaning the sunscreen blocks both the aging UVA rays and the sunburn-producing UVB rays) and lists an SPF between 30 and 50.
The myth of a waterproof sunscreen has also been debunked; now, sunscreens can only be rated “water resistant” for either 40 or 80 minutes.
So why do we still get sunburnt and tan?
Even the best sunscreen doesn’t live up to the promises on the label if you don’t apply enough. The amount of sunscreen necessary to cover the exposed areas of your body is enough to fill a shot glass, or about 1-2 ounces.
Many people appreciate the convenience of a spray, but wonder whether a quick spritz of a spray sunscreen is as effective as a lotion or a cream. The quick answer is “It could be,” but the same application rule applies: you still need 1-2 ounces of sunscreen, essentially filling that same imaginary shot glass with the spray, then applying it evenly to the skin, just like a lotion. For effective and convenient sun protection, make your first application of the day a cream or lotion, and reserve the sprays for touch-ups at least every 2 hours.
Some controversy surrounds certain UV filters like oxybenzone and other ingredients that can be found in sunscreens like retinyl palmitate. Although we lack convincing evidence that these ingredients pose a true health risk, you can avoid both the controversy and the chemicals by applying physical or mineral sunscreens. Look for zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the active ingredients. These mineral sunscreens are also recommended for children and people with very sensitive skin.
SLAP ON A HAT
There’s no doubt about it, hats are definitely back, and that’s great news for your skin! A hat with a brim that shades your face, ears and the back of your neck provides a stylish and nearly effortless way to protect yourself from the sun. This is particularly important as melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, can have a particularly bad prognosis when it is located on the scalp and neck. While a baseball cap will only provide protection to your scalp and nose, a brim of at least 3 inches around the hat will also protect your ears, cheeks, and neck. Lastly, remember that size matters! When there’s more skin exposed, go for a wider brim – think “More Skin, More Brim!”
WRAP ON SUNGLASSES
More than just a way to make a fashion statement and avoid the paparazzi, sunglasses are an important way to protect your eyes from UV radiation, which can cause not only cancers of the eyelids and eyes, but also cataracts, macular degeneration and keratitis. Check the label on your sunglasses to ensure that they absorb or block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB light. Lenses large enough to cover the skin surrounding the eye and eyelids, particularly with a wraparound style, are ideal. Polarized lenses are a nice feature when you need to eliminate glare while skiing, boating or driving, but aren’t essential for sun protection.
With these 4 steps, you will be well on your way to a safe summer in the sun!