5 Strategies to Lower Your Risk of Skin Cancer

Winter is a long season, especially here in New England, where it tends to begin before its official start date and linger long past spring’s slated arrival.

It’s only natural, then, that you want to get outside as the days grow longer and the breeze gets warmer. After so many months of cold, cloudy weather, there’s nothing like baring a bit of skin and soaking up some sunshine.

But even if we all need to bask in the warmth of the sun and replenish our vitamin D levels from time to time, getting too much sun can damage your skin and increase your risk of getting skin cancer.

As the most common form of cancer in the United States, skin cancer affects millions of adults. Approximately 9,500 Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer every single day, and one in five people, or 20% of the entire US population, will develop the disease at some point in their lives.

Although nonmelanoma skin cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, account for a relatively high percentage of skin cancer cases, the number of people being diagnosed with melanoma — the most invasive, aggressive, and deadliest form of the disease — has doubled over the past three decades and continues to rise.

But it’s not all bad news. There’s a lot you can do to protect your skin from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays and reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. Here are 5 of the easiest and most effective strategies:

1. Use sunscreen

One of the best ways to cut your skin cancer risk is by making sunscreen part of your daily skin care routine. Even if it’s cloudy or cool, or you don’t plan to spend a lot of time outdoors, you should still apply a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher to all areas of exposed skin.

If you plan to spend more time outside, you should use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. You’ll want to apply enough sunscreen to cover all areas of exposed skin, including your face, neck, ears, hands, and the tops of your feet if you’re wearing sandals.

And because sunscreen breaks down over time and in the water, you should reapply every two hours or after swimming or excessive sweating.

2. Stay in the shade

Even if you’re pretty consistent about applying sunscreen, it’s a good idea to stay in the shade during the midday hours — 10am-4pm — when the sun is at its highest and its rays are stronger and more direct.

Besides protecting your skin from direct sunshine, seeking shade under a tree, beach umbrella, covered porch, or other structured shelter can also offer relief from the heat in warmer months.

Just remember, some amount of UV light can still reach your skin when you’re in the shade, so you should still wear sunscreen or protective clothing when you plan to be outdoors for extended periods of time.

3. Cover up!

If you’re not a big fan of slathering sunscreen all over your body, you can minimize your exposure to harmful UV rays by wearing clothes that offer more complete skin coverage.

In the summer, you can cover up and still stay cool by choosing lightweight long-sleeved shirts and long pants or skirts. A wide-brimmed hat can help protect the skin on your head, face, ears, and neck.

Clothes made with tightly woven fabrics offer the best protection. You can also buy SPF-rated clothing that’s been certified under international skin protection standards.

4. Wear sunglasses

One of the best ways to protect your eyes — and the skin around them, including your tender eyelids — is by wearing sunglasses with lenses that block out 100% of UV radiation, including UVA and UVB light rays.

Prescription sunglasses obtained through an optometrist will always provide this level of protection, while store-bought sunglasses that are UV-rated are generally labeled with a tag or a sticker so you’ll know for sure.

Although a darker lens won’t provide more protection, oversized or wraparound-style sunglasses do offer more complete coverage for your eye area.

5. Check your skin

Because there’s no way to completely protect your skin from harmful UV rays, it’s important to perform monthly self-exams of your skin and come in to see us for a preventive skin cancer screening once a year.  

When checking your skin, you’ll want to pay attention to any dome-shaped growths, scaly patches, long-lasting sores, or unusual looking moles. The ABCDEs of atypical moles are:

If you find a mole or other spot on your skin that has changed, appears unusual, itches, or bleeds, give us a call or book your visit online. With several convenient locations in Portsmouth, Dover, Exeter, and Newmarket, New Hampshire, our team of board-certified dermatology providers is always ready to help. We offer urgent appointments, late hours and some Saturday appointments.

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