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You’re Never Too Old For Skin Cancer Awareness

By Julie Davis

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. In 2006, the latest year for which statistics are available, almost 54,000 people were diagnosed with melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer—more than 8,441 people died from it. While protecting your skin with an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen is important year-round, it’s even more essential in warmer months when the sun is intense.

Unprotected skin can be damaged by the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays in as little as 15 minutes, though you may not realize it right away—it can take up to 12 hours for skin to show the full effect of a sunburn. sun exposure. Even if it's cool and cloudy, you still need protection. UV rays, not the temperature, do the damage. Clouds do not block UV rays; they filter them—and sometimes only slightly.

And a suntan is not better than a sunburn—tanned skin is damaged skin. Any change in the color of your skin after time outside, whether sunburn or suntan, indicates damage from UV rays, warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Know The Types Of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The two most common types, called basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, are highly curable. But melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is more dangerous.

Skin cancer risk factors.

Anyone can get skin cancer, but these factors put you at higher risk:

  • A lighter natural skin color, blue or green eyes and naturally blond or red hair
  • A personal history of skin cancer
  • A family history of melanoma
  • Exposure to the sun through work and play
  • A history of sunburns early in life
  • Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun

Skin Cancer Protection Essentials

Take precautions against sun exposure every day of the year. Protection from sun exposure is important all year round, not just during the summer or at the beach. UV rays can reach you on cloudy and hazy days, as well as bright and sunny days and can reflect off of surfaces like water, cement, sand and, in the winter, snow. Here are steps you can take:

  • Avoid the hours between 10 am and 4 pm daylight savings time (9 am to 3 pm standard time), the most hazardous for UV exposure in the continental United States. UV rays are the greatest during the late spring and early summer in North America.
  • Use sunscreen whenever you’re out and about, not just at the beach or near a pool. The sun's UV rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes. Sunscreens are assigned a sun protection factor (SPF) number that rates their effectiveness in blocking UV rays. Higher numbers indicate more protection. You should use a sunscreen with at least SPF 15. Put on sunscreen before you go outside, even on slightly cloudy or cool days. Don't forget to put a thick layer on all parts of exposed skin. Get help for hard-to-reach places like your back. Most sun protection products work by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering sunlight. They contain chemicals that interact with the skin to protect it from UV rays. All products do not have the same ingredients; if your skin reacts badly to one product, try another one or call a doctor. Sunscreen wears off. Put it on again if you stay out in the sun for more than two hours, and after you swim or do things that make you sweat. Check the sunscreen's expiration date. Sunscreen without an expiration date has a shelf life of no more than three years, but its shelf life is shorter if it has been exposed to high temperatures. Note that while some makeup and lip balms contain some of the same chemicals used in sunscreens, if they do not have at least SPF 15, don't use them by themselves.
  • Clothing can offer some protection. Loose-fitting long-sleeved shirts and long pants made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection from the sun's UV rays. A wet T-shirt offers much less UV protection than a dry one. Darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors. If wearing this type of clothing isn't practical, at least try to wear a T-shirt or a beach cover-up. Keep in mind that a typical T-shirt has an SPF rating lower than 15, so use other types of protection as well. For the most protection, wear a hat with a brim all the way around that shades your face, ears, and the back of your neck. A tightly woven fabric, such as canvas, works best to protect your skin from UV rays. Avoid straw hats with holes that let sunlight through. A darker hat may offer more UV protection. If you wear a baseball cap, you should also protect your ears and the back of your neck by wearing clothing that covers those areas, using sunscreen with at least SPF 15, or by staying in the shade.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the tender skin around your eyes from sun exposure. Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection. Most sunglasses sold in the United States, regardless of cost, meet this standard. Wraparound sunglasses work best because they block UV rays from sneaking in from the side.
  • Pick a shady spot. You can reduce your risk of skin damage and skin cancer by seeking shade under an umbrella, tree or other shelter before you need relief from the sun. Your best bet to protect your skin is to use sunscreen or wear protective clothing when you're outside—even when you're in the shade.