Don't Get Burned!
The embarrassing swimsuit lines may fade, but the damage caused by a severe sunburn can be irreversible. Follow these rules to protect yourself.
Growing up in Florida, Sevin Hagan, 16, spent most weekends at the beach. Then one day her doctor tested a wart-like bump on her arm, leading to a shocking diagnosis: She had melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
Sevin was lucky. Doctors removed her cancer early enough that she’s now in remission, but many aren’t as fortunate. Melanoma kills one person every hour of every day in the U.S., and every year, more than 5 million people are diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, the other types of skin cancer.
The good news? While there are risk factors that are out of your control (like your genetics and family history), you do have power over how much sun you get. “The exposure you build up as a teen doesn’t go away,” says surgical oncologist Dr. Vernon K. Sondak. So use this guide to stay safe in the sun this summer—and beyond.
Knowing how to decode the label will help you pick the right sunscreen and use it correctly.
♦ 30: It’s the minimum SPF number doctors recommend. While a bigger number might seem like better protection, there’s no need to buy sunscreen with SPF 100. The most important thing is that you follow the instructions and reapply as directed.
♦ Sun Protection Factor (SPF): This refers to how much UV radiation (the damaging part of sunlight) it takes to burn your unprotected skin versus protected skin.
♦ Manufacturer's Instructions: Don’t ignore these! Some brands recommend you reapply after 40 minutes; others say 80. Do it even sooner if you’re sweating a lot or getting wet.
♦ Water-Resistant: If water-resistant sunscreen makes you itchy or uncomfortable, try a regular one, which some people find easier on their skin. No matter which type you use, reapply often, especially after swimming.
To Apply: Use no less than 2 tablespoons (the size of a Ping Pong ball) all over, including armpits and bottoms of feet!
DON’T RELY ONLY ON SPF . . .
Yes, it will help protect exposed skin, but other precautions are just as important. Add these must-have items to your beach bag.
♦ Sunglasses: Make sure to purchase shades that cover your whole eye area and offer protection from both UVA and UVB rays. They should have a label that says they block 99 percent to 100 percent of UV rays.
♦ Cover-Ups: Wear a long-sleeve rash guard and board shorts whenever you go to the beach; labels should say that they’re made of a UV-protective fabric.
♦ Hat: The bigger the brim, the better! Scalp melanomas tend to be more aggressive, possibly because they’re often caught late. They account for 10 percent of melanoma deaths.
SEPARATE FACT FROM FICTION.
BE HONEST: Have you told yourself these lies?
♦ “I don’t need sunscreen—it’s cloudy.” LIE
UVB radiation is more intense in summer, but UVA radiation is present in equal amounts all year. It can penetrate clouds, mist, fog, and glass to damage your skin.
♦ “It’s better to get a base tan.” LIE
Hitting the tanning bed to prep for your vacation? Don’t do it! Using a tanning bed before age 30 increases your risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent.
♦ “It’s just a healthy glow.” LIE
Anytime your skin changes color because of sun or a tanning bed (even a little bit!), it’s a sign of sun damage, which can lead to premature wrinkles and skin cancer.
KNOW THE DANGER ZONE.
The sun is strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Can’t stay indoors that whole time? Do your best to seek shade when you can.
SCHEDULE MONTHLY SELF-EXAMS.
Put “skin check” as a repeating event on your phone. This way you’ll learn what’s normal for your body and can spot any changes that occur. (You can access our Skin Check Guide here.)