Sun safety is the most effective way to lower the risk of melanoma or skin cancer. If you cannot avoid being outdoors in direct sunlight, then skin protection is important. The American Cancer Society recommends these sun safety precautions (www.cancer.org):
SUN SAFETY PRECAUTIONS
1. Seek Shade: The simplest and most effective way to limit exposure to UV light is to avoid being outdoors in sunlight too long. Avoid the sun during the hours of 10 am and 4 pm, when UV light is strongest. Sunlight can reflect off water, clouds, sand, concrete, and snow, and can reach below the water's surface.
2. Protecting Your Skin with Clothing: You can protect most of your skin with clothing, including a shirt with long sleeves and a hat with a broad brim. Baseball hats can protect the head but they do not protect the ears or neck.
3. Using Sunscreen Properly: Doctors are divided on whether sunscreens protect against melanoma. Most studies have not shown them to be protective. But it may be that newer sunscreens are more effective.
Use sunscreens with at least an SPF factor of 15 on areas of skin exposed to the sun. Look for products that protect against UVA and UVB, the two most damaging forms of UV radiation. Use sunscreen even on hazy days or days with light or broken cloud cover because the UV light still comes through.
Always follow directions when applying sunscreen. For it to work best, you should apply sunscreen before you go outside, about 20 to 30 minutes before so your skin can absorb the protective agents. Remember to reapply it at least every 2 hours. A 1-ounce application (a palm full of sunscreen) is recommended. Many sunscreens wear off with sweating and swimming and must be reapplied often for maximum effectiveness. And don't forget your lips. Lip balm with sunscreen is also available.
Sunscreen should not be used to allow you to sit in the sun longer. Sunscreen will not prevent melanoma; it just reduces the amount of UV light exposure. Researchers have found that many people use sunscreens to let them stay out in the sun longer. This results in the same amount of UV light exposure as if they hadn't used sunscreen at all, which doesn't reduce their risk. Too much sun exposure is unhealthy. Sunscreen should only be used to protect against normal sun exposure.
4. Wearing Sunglasses: Wrap-around sunglasses with at least 99% UV absorption provide the best protection for the eyes and the skin area around the eyes. Look for sunglasses labeled as blocking UVA and UVB light.
5. Avoiding Other Sources of UV Light: The use of tanning beds and sun lamps is hazardous because the UV radiation they deliver can damage your skin. There is growing evidence that they may increase your risk of developing melanoma.
6. Protecting Children from the Sun: Children require special attention, especially since they tend to spend more time outdoors and can burn more easily. Parents and caregivers should protect children from sun exposure by using the measures described above.
7. Identifying Abnormal Moles and Having Them Removed: Certain types of moles have an increased risk of developing into a melanoma. Depending on the appearance of these moles, your doctor may monitor them closely by regular examinations or may remove them if they have certain features that suggest they may be changing into a melanoma.
For more information about skin cancer see the American Cancer Society website at www.cancer.org