Summer Fun in the Sun: Precautions Help Prevent Skin Cancer

  • August 1, 2013

Summer Fun in the Sun: Precautions Help Prevent Skin Cancer

Skin cancer, usually caused by overexposure to the sun, is the most common form of cancer. Luckily, it's one of the most treatable if caught early, and it's preventable with proper precautions.

"From birth to old age, sun protection is important," says Diane Meyer, MD, a dermatologist with Marshfield Clinic, Marshfield, Wis. "We get 80 percent of our lifetime sun exposure during the first 18 years of life. In fact, a single, severe, blistering sunburn in childhood can double one's lifetime risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. So sun protection is very important, especially with kids."

Meyer offers these sun protection tips:

  • Sunscreen is just that - a screen from sun exposure, not an impenetrable barrier. It should be used as one part of an overall program to decrease sun exposure, rather than a misguided excuse to stay out in the sun indefinitely.
  • Choose a product with an SPF rating of 15 or higher and re-apply every couple of hours.
  • Sunscreens should be applied liberally, about 30 minutes prior to going outside, on all exposed areas of skin.
  • Studies show that most people will put on inadequate amounts of sunscreen, unless they're told to use it generously.
  • The most intense sun takes place in the middle of the day between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Even on cloudy days, harmful rays still get through.
  • Infants up to six months of age should not be exposed to direct sun.
  • Proper sun wear includes hats with a 3 to 4-inch brim to provide protection to the head, neck and face, sunglasses to protect eyes from sun exposure and light-colored, tightly woven clothing, to block the sun and reflect the heat.
  • Sun is actually an immunosuppressant, which limits our skin's ability to fight off infection, including skin cancer and even cold sores.
  • Some medications, including those for high blood pressure, can make us more sensitive to the harmful effects of the sun.
  • Indoor tanning is worse than outdoor sun exposure. The intensity of UVA radiation from a tanning bed is two more times as great as the amount you would get sunbathing at noon on the beach in summer.

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