Our moms have nagged us to wear sunscreen for years during the summer months. Sometimes messages of the utmost importance take time (or a few sunburns) to sink in, but with the prevalence of skin cancer, getting an early start at skin protection is more important now than ever.
You might see “ways to achieve a summer glow!” advertised on the cover of your beach read magazine or your favorite celebrity’s Instagram, but protecting your skin from the sun’s rays is way more important than crisping your skin to a tan.
It’s a bummer, but the reality is that the sun can cause some serious damage to our health. Skin cancer is the most common cancer and comes in three forms: basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma. Melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, will occur in close to 77,000 cases of skin cancer in 2016 alone. Those are some scary stats, so let’s do our best to not fall victim to that number, shall we?
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, so in honor of that, it’s time to load up on sunscreen and protect our precious skin. Even the OG cast of Baywatch went through 40 bottles of sunscreen a month, so the actors were free from sunburns and melanoma. Practicing sun safety is one of the best ways to prevent skin cancer, so here are our top tips for having a safe summer out in the sun!
- Always wear SPF on your face
We know it’s hard to believe, but even on the cloudiest of days the sun’s UVA rays still shine through. Your face is one of the most exposed parts of your body, and most basal and squamous cell skin cancers occur on the most sun-exposed parts of your skin, including the face, neck, lips, ears, and back of hands.
But don’t plaster on the thick sunscreen just yet, there are alternatives to wearing straight-up sunscreen on your face. If you still want to wear makeup during the summer, opt for an SPF coverage BB or CC cream. We highly recommend M Perfect Cover BB cream, CoverGirl Smoothers BB cream, and the It Cosmetics Your Skin but Better CC Cream. If you’re not wearing any makeup, opt for a facial moisturizer with SPF such as the Garnier Skin Active Clearly Brighter daily moisturizer.
- Hit up the dermatologist as needed
They say you know your body the best, so it’s important to be vigilant of any differences or changes in your skin. Self-examinations are great, but there are certain spots on your body that you may not be able to see and check. Hello, basically the entire backside of you. Be conscious of any moles that may have changed shape or become irritated, as this is a sign to make an immediate dermatologist appointment.
It’s also important to have full body skin exams, as the earlier you find skin cancer the easier it is to treat successfully. This visit at the dermatologist entails a head-to-toe check of every inch of your skin. As someone who has skin cancer in the family, I’ve personally experienced the full-body skin exam. I was terrified to have one and thought it would be very embarrassing, but my dermatologist was very professional. These types of visits are the perfect time to ask about any spots that you’re worried about or think you should be worried about. The dermatologist is there to make sure you are healthy and cancer free!
- Protect your scalp
If you don’t want to wear a hat in the summer, you need to think of other ways to shield your precious lil’ scalp from the sun. Stay calm though, there’s no need to go slather sunscreen into your hair! There are many great products specifically made for protecting the hair and scalp.
The Pre-Soliel Hair Mist from Fekkai is a lightweight mist that has UV filters to protect the hair from sun damage. Another great choice is the Banana Boat Quik Dry Sport Body and Scalp sunblock.
- Remember your hands & feet
Wearing flip flops means exposing your feet to the sun, and your piggy toes aren’t immune to the sun’s rays! That’s right, you also need to think about putting sunscreen on your feet if you’re wearing sandals. Because let’s be honest, it’s summer so at least some part of your foot is going to be exposed.
And hey, don’t forget your hands either! Those babies get a vast amount of UV exposure, leaving them vulnerable to burns. If you’re already putting on lotion to moisturize your hands, just find one with SPF in it to perform double duty. We recommend Supergoop! Forever Young Hand Cream.
- Remember to reapply
Slathering on a layer of sunscreen and heading off to the beach is my summertime modus operandi. But I’ve come to learn a pretty sad lesson, one that I hate to break to you: that doesn’t work. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied frequently, no matter the potency of the SPF. Most bottles of sunscreen will say to reapply at least every two hours, if not more often. The bottles often say that the sunscreen is water resistant for 40 to 80 minutes, meaning that reapplication is essential after water exposure. These days I always toss my sunscreen in my beach bag to take with me.
The level of SPF is not as crucial as applying and continuing to reapply, reapply, and (guess what?) reapply. SPF 30 or above is recommended by experts. Reapplying SPF 30 can be as effective as using SPF 60. But even for high SPFs such as 70 or 100, you still need to be vigilant in reapplying.
And don’t forget sunscreen has an expiration date. The bottles are also sensitive to heat, so getting a replacement every summer season is a good idea. Sunscreen mistakes are common, so try your best to make sure you don’t make any!
- Be conscious: Know your skin and its tolerance
Only you know what being you is like and chances are, you know yourself well. Paying extra attention to your skin in the summer is one of the best ways to protect yourself against skin cancer. Prevention is necessary to start at a young age, to reinforce the good habits of wearing SPF and reapplying.
As someone with fair skin, I’ve always been good about wearing sunscreen. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t had my fair share of burns and the terrible, post-burn urge to slather aloe vera everywhere. But when my grandmother’s melanoma was discovered, I became the sunscreen queen. Her melanoma was taken care of, but then it came back with a vengeance as metastasized melanoma cancer.
Catching skin cancer early is the best way to beat it – which is what my grandma did. She had to fight hard and had a long battle with cancer. No one has to remind me to wear my sunscreen, but I’m glad that my grandma is still with me to remind me anyway!
Enjoy your summer and don’t forget to reapply, reapply, reapply that sunscreen from (literally) head to toe!
This article previously was published in 2016 by Tote Magazine. © Rachel Shubin 2017