by Amy Roper
(last updated August 23, 2013)
Sun is pleasantly warm and makes us happy, energetic, and attractively tan; however too much sun can be a hazard to your health. While the pleasant effects only last a short while, premature aging of the skin and skin cancer can pop up long after initial sun exposure. While many forms of skin cancer can be treated easily and quickly, melanoma is a deadly type of skin cancer that can be prevented with proper care. Here are some tips to staying skin-cancer free:
Avoid sunburn. Experts say that even if you've had only five sunburns in your whole life, you are at twice as much risk of eventually getting skin cancer as those without. Don't stay out long enough to burn, especially between the hours of 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. when the sun is at its strongest.
Use sunscreen with at least an SPF 15 and preferably 30 or more. Apply it 15-30 minutes before exposure, and reapply often (every two hours), especially if you are getting wet or sweaty. Don't forget to apply to often-missed spots like your scalp, ears, hands, and feet. Use SPF lip balm to protect your lips.
Wear protective clothing. While some clothing and swimsuits are specifically designed to block out harmful UV rays, any clothing will decrease the penetration of harmful rays. Look for clothing with dark colors and/or a tight weave (a white cotton T-shirt only provides an SPF of 4). Cover your arms and legs, and wear a wide-brimmed hat (with a brim of 2-3 inches) and sunglasses with UV protection.
Seek shade, like trees or umbrellas. Be aware that you can burn even on a cloudy day, so wear protective clothing and/or sunscreen even when the sun isn't bright. Also know that water, sand, and snow will reflect up to 80 percent of the sun's rays, and that you will burn faster at higher altitudes. Take extra precaution in these areas.
Don't make tanning a habit. Even though some have claimed that tanning bed rays are less harmful than the actual sun, most experts have discounted this.
Monitor your skin. Check for skin discoloration or moles every month. If a mole is discolored, raised, irregular (not round), dark brown or black, bigger than a pencil eraser, itchy, or bleeding, you should get it checked by a doctor. Watch out for any rough, red or bumpy patches and inform your doctor of any skin changes.
While the most commonly known form of skin cancer is caused by sun, scientists have also hypothesized at least two other causes: skin lotions that contain tar (such as to treat psoriasis) and exposure to chemicals that contain organic arsenic, such as in some pesticides and herbicides. Do your best to avoid these things, in addition to excessive sun exposure, and continually watch your skin for changes. Skin cancer is very treatable if caught at an early stage.
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