When the Sun Is Out, Get Out the Sunscreen

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

SunSafeSelfie logo image

Written by Meredith Rhyne, Appalachian State University, Public Health Undergraduate Senior

Summer is finally here, and what does that mean? The hot sun is coming out once again! Many folks want a bronze, summer glow, but protecting your skin from the sun’s UV rays is far more important than a nice tan. The sun’s UV rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes, sooner for some.

Skin cancer, or melanoma, is one of the most common cancers in the US. Fortunately, it is also one of the most preventable. Some populations are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer: men have a greater risk than women, the older you get the more at risk you are, Caucasians have a higher risk than non-whites, genetics and family history can play a part in raising your risk, as well as lifestyle choices such as smoking.

In order to protect your skin, you need to know about proper sun protection.  There’s more to sun protection than sunscreen. Sunscreen is very important, but also consider these items for protection from the sun: 

  • Don’t forget your hat. Hats with wide brims all the way around are important for providing shade for the face, ears, nose, and the back of the neck.
  • Take your shades. Sunglasses not only keep you from squinting, but also helps to protect eyes from sun exposure. UV ray exposure to the eyes can increase your risk of cataracts. If possible, it is best to wear sunglasses that have UV protection.
  • Consider long sleeves and long pants. Tightly woven fabrics can reflect heat and keep you cool even when in the sun. Also, try to seek shade as much as possible under objects such as trees, umbrellas, or tents.

Sunscreen Tips

  1. Select the right SPF. Use at least a 15 SPF sunscreen, higher if possible, and apply it about 30 minutes before going out in the sun. SPF 15 sunscreen blocks about 94% of UV rays, SPF 30 blocks about 97% of UV rays and SPF 45 blocks about 98% of UV rays.
  2. Choose broad-spectrum coverage. Be sure to use a  sunscreen that provides broad-spectrum coverage, which means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
  3. Use enough sunscreen. The amount of sunscreen that needs to be applied to the exposed areas of the body needs to be about two tablespoons per body part (legs, arms, stomach, etc.). Even if it is cloudy outside, it is still important to apply sunscreen. It is also important to know when the UV rays from the sun are at their peak: between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. If possible, try to stay out of direct sun during these times in order to reduce your sun exposure.
  4. Reapply often. Sunscreen does wear off, especially when sweating and being in the water. Be sure to re-apply every two hours if you stay out in the sun for long periods of time.

Kids and Sun Safety

While adults may be mindful of sun safety, most children are not. This means that adults have to protect children from sun exposure and teach them about sun safety. Remember, starting healthy habits at an early age is always best. Your attitude and behavior about sun protection can influence your children and grandchildren. 

Skin Self-Checks

It is also important to check for changes in moles on your body a few times a year. These ABCDEs are signs that a mole could possibly be skin cancer:

  • A – Asymmetry: One half of the mole does not match the other
  • B – Border: The border or edges of the mole are ragged, blurred, or irregular
  • C – Color: The mole has different colors or it has shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white, or red
  • D – Diameter: The diameter of the mole is larger than the eraser of a pencil
  • E – Evolving: The mole appears different from others and/or changes in size, color, or shape