As never before, the chance to get outside under sunny skies is a relief. “It’s been especially welcoming as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” observes Dr. Allison Britt Kimmins, a dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC. After weeks spent inside to limit the spread of coronavirus, it is no surprise that we are all anxious to get outside and enjoy the sun. However we want to make sure that we are sun-safe and protect ourselves from the damaging and potentially deadly ultraviolet light.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the world. In the United States, cases outnumber all other cancers combined, according to the non-profit Skin Cancer Foundation. The rates of skin cancer continue to rise, 20% of the the U.S. population will get skin cancer by the time they turn seventy.
The threat of the sun’s ultraviolet rays is so great that the World Health Organization lists them as Group 1 carcinogens, alongside plutonium and cigarettes. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also has labeled the sun’s radiation as a known carcinogen. “Ninety percent or more of cases of skin cancer are linked to sun exposure,” states Dr. Britt Kimmins. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “having 5 or more sunburns doubles your risk of developing melanoma.” In 2020, it is estimated that the number of melanoma cases is expected to rise.
Every one of us – regardless of skin tone or age – will benefit from practicing sun-safe precautions.
5 Tips to Stay Sun-Safe This Summer – and Year-Round
- Stick to your skin-checkup schedule: “Early intervention is essential to stay safe from skin cancer. “When detected and treated early, the 5 year survival rate for melanoma is over 98%. Dr. Britt Kimmins recommends that patients see a dermatologist to establish their baseline level of skin health and identify their level of risk. Scheduling regular annual skin examinations will help to monitor the skin for changes and encourage self-examination. This supports early intervention and effective treatment.”
- Make sure that your sunscreen protects you: “People may think they’re protected when they are not,” warns Dr. Britt Kimmins. “We need to apply enough sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going outdoors and reapply every 2 hours while outside. If swimming or sweating, more frequent reapplication may be necessary. It is important to apply enough sunscreen to all exposed areas including hands, feet, neck, scalp and ears. A one ounce shot glass is the amount needed to cover exposed areas of skin.
- Remember: You need more than sunscreen: “Even if we follow the American Academy of Dermatology’s guidelines,” notes Dr. Britt Kimmins, “and use a water-resistant product that is SPF 30 or higher with full-spectrum UVA/UVB protection, we cannot completely avoid the sun’s rays. Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun is most direct, we need to be careful: Seek shade and wear protective clothing, including a hat and sunglasses.”
- Indoor ‘sun’ is just as risky: “Just one indoor tanning session,” Dr. Britt Kimmins emphasizes, “can increase the risk of cancer by almost 70%. Additionally, tanning beds primarily emit UVA rays which penetrate our skin more deeply, further accelerating changes associated with aging.”
- Pass safe sun habits on to the next generation: “Protecting children and helping young people develop healthy sun habits are keys to reducing skin cancer rates, “states Dr. Britt Kimmins. Just one blistering sunburn during childhood almost doubles the risk of melanoma. Most of the damage occurs before the age of eighteen. Young people are influenced by the behaviors of their caregivers. We see this, for example, with tanning bed use, which often begins during teen years, in the company of a family member.”
“As we all spend time outdoors this summer, let’s remember to be sun-safe and follow these suggestions so we can stay healthy now – and skin-cancer-free for years to come.