Here’s a surprising skin fact:
Even though putting on sunscreen daily is pretty easy, most people don’t bother. A whopping 69.1 percent of women and 85.7 percent of men don’t wear sunscreen when they’ll be outdoors for more than an hour, according to a 2015 article in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatologists.
Those numbers are troubling. Cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, have been rising for the past 30 years. It’s estimated that one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. And it can happen to anyone.
With summer in full swing, it’s a good time to remember that making sunscreen a daily habit is one of the best ways to protect your skin.
“People usually get more sun than they realize,” says Dr. Arisa Ortiz, a dermatologist at University of California, San Diego. “It’s important to wear sunscreen every day.”
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Ortiz, who prefers sunscreen with SPF 30, says it’s important to apply enough – a shot glass full for your face and exposed .
Three myths about sun protection and skin cancer:
- Darker-skinned people don’t have to worry about skin cancer.
Amelia St. Ange, a medical student from Santa Lucia, is Afro-Caribbean with deep golden-brown skin. From age 11, she was an avid tennis player, spending hours every weekend on a sunny court. When a mole on her neck started hurting, she was shocked to learn it was melanoma.
“The biggest surprise is that I was black,” says St. Ange. “Darker skinned women feel we’re immune to UV rays because of the melanin. But I wanted to tell people you’re not invincible.”
Doctors removed her mole and luckily the cancer didn’t spread. After that scare, St. Ange started wearing large hats and sunscreen every day. She tells others to do the same, and recommends mixing sunscreen with body lotion you use every day.
Hispanic and Asian women need to take note too: a 2015 study Ortiz co-authored found women in those ethnic groups were at greater risk for skin cancer than men.
- It takes years of sun damage before skin cancer develops.
While older white men are most likely to get skin cancer, younger people need to watch out. Melanoma is the leading cause of cancer death among women 20 to 35, according to the Melanoma Research Foundation.
“I see women who used to go to tanning salons,” says Ortiz. “They’re in their late 20s and early 30s, which is relatively young for skin cancer. But I’m seeing basal cell skin cancer and they’re getting it on their face.”
- You only need sunscreen on sunny days or when you’re outside for hours.
“People usually equate sun exposure with going to the beach, but you get a lot of sun even if you’re just driving,” says Ortiz. “You should apply it every day in the morning whether you think you’re going to be outdoors or not.”
Even on a cloudy day, sitting by a window in the office, on the train or in an airplane exposes you to harmful ultraviolet rays. And did you know UV rays are more potent when you’re in flight since you’re so much closer to the sun?
“The more time you spend outdoors the more you put yourself at risk, but if you protect your skin, you’ll be alright,” says Ortiz, who recommends that patients use a sunless tanner if they want a bronze glow. “Just remember there’s no such thing as a healthy sun .”
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