I am a dermatologist who treats hundreds of skin cancers a year, so on a recent family vacation to the beach, the pressure was on. I felt like it was my duty, as mother, wife and dermatologist, not to let one family member get sunburned. Let me tell you, it was hard! Of course, I know all the statistics. One in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetimes. If people live past the age of 65, then this risk goes up to 40-50 percent. That means that about half of the people over age 65 have had a skin cancer.
Approximately 90 percent of these skin cancers can be linked to sun exposure which is ultraviolet radiation. Even knowing all of this, it is still hard to protect yourself from the sun. I am here to tell you that it is worth the time and energy that it takes. Here are my tips for making a beach vacation, day at the lake or just any day outside safe.
• Apply a base coat of sunscreen to all areas of the body prior to putting on your bathing suit. This should be a broad spectrum sunscreen so that it blocks both UVA and UVB. While at the beach, I chose 50+. I also usually do a quick double application of sunscreen to my face, chest, and neck. These are high risk areas for skin cancer.
• Use sun protective clothing. Thankfully, stores like Land’s End and JCrew are catching on to the sun protective clothing trend. These companies make shirts that provide spf 50 protection in a shirt designed to be worn in the water. My family and I wear these in the pool and the ocean. Other companies like Coolibar and Sun Precautions make a full line of sun protective clothing.
• Always wear a wide brim hat in the sun. Ball caps are better than nothing but wide brim hats provide a bigger area of shade under the hat to protect your ears and neck too.
• Bring a tent or umbrella to the beach so that you can have shade while enjoying the beach.
• Reapply your sunscreen. This should be done on average every two hours. For a full day at the beach, you should almost go through a small tube or spray can every day. As for the spray, I do like it for application outdoors but make sure that you apply a thick enough coating and then rub it in to ensure good coverage.
• Avoid mid-day sun when the sun’s rays are most intense.
I’m not saying that it is easy to go to the beach without getting a sunburn, but it is possible. The sheer numbers of skin cancers diagnosed in this country every year are enough that everyone should be enjoying the sun smartly. So slap on a hat, slip on some sun protective clothing and slop on some sunscreen!
Currie Custer, MD is a fellow in the American Academy of Dermatology and practices at Current Dermatology in Sylva and Clyde. She is a member of the Western Carolina Medical Society. Dr. Custer is passionate about dermatology and making sure treatment is tailored for each patient. She is married and has three young children on whom she is constantly putting on sunscreen.
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