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Get Skin Smart: Protect Yourself from the Sun

Whether it’s a brisk walk, taking in an outdoor concert, hosting a cook-out, playing a round of golf, gardening, or building a sandcastle, we all like to spend time outside in warmer months. So how do we protect ourselves and our families from the sun and its harmful UV rays? And is it really necessary?

Skin cancer, which is primarily caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. Another key fact, according to the American Cancer Society: more skin cancer cases are diagnosed in the U.S. than all other cancers combined.  Those who spend a lot of time in the sun and are exposed to UV rays are at greatest risk. There is good news, though. Prevention and early detection can help fight skin cancer and minimize the sun’s damaging effects.

Here are some important tips and proactive steps to protect you and your family:

  1. Seek shade - especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This is when UV light is the strongest.
  2. Use the “shadow” test to determine if the sun’s rays are strongest. If your shadow is shorter than you are, the rays are at their peak. Take cover!
  3. When outside, wear protective clothing to cover your skin. Keep in mind that if you can see light through it, it isn’t protecting against the UV rays.
  4. Use broad spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen. Broad spectrum means it has been tested to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Without that label, it cannot claim to protect against skin cancer. Also, read the water-resistant protection time on the label (showing either 40 or 80 minutes) indicating the estimated time between applications.
  5. Apply sunscreen properly and generously to face, ears, neck, arms and any other exposed skin. The recommended amount is about an ounce, which is equal to a palm-full, for each area.
  6. Wear a wide-brim hat (with a 2- to 3-inch brim), preferably with a dark, non-reflective underside of the brim to help against rays reflecting from water and other surfaces.
  7. Wear sunglasses that block UV rays – ideally ones that block 99% or more of UVA and UVB rays. If they are not labeled with the UV protection level, don’t assume there’s any.
  8. Children should wear real, UV protective sunglasses– not toy ones.
  9. Avoid tanning beds and sun lamps – tanning beds give out a UVA and usually UVB rays as well, which may contribute to skin cancer and long-term skin damage. If you like looking tan, you might try a self-tanning product.
  10. Protect children – cover them, use sunscreen on them every time they go outdoors, and limit their exposure to large amounts of sunlight.
  11. Babies younger than 6 months – keep them out of direct sunlight, protect them with hats and clothing, and use sunscreen when shade or protective clothing are not available.

If you’re concerned about previous exposure to the sun, get checked by a doctor who specializes in dermatology and skin cancer. Also, if you notice any moles or skin irritations that have changed in color, size or shape, have it looked at promptly. Early detection is your second best defense against skin cancer and increases your chances for a better outcome.

So as the summer approaches, now is the time to develop good-skin habits by planning ahead, being prepared with protective wear and sunscreen, and seeking shade whenever possible. While you’re at it, to look and feel your best, drink lots of water, limit alcohol intake, get plenty of rest, manage the stress in your life, and don’t use tobacco products. Your radiant skin will thank you.

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