Stay Safe on Your Getaway: A Study Links Tropical Vacations and Melanoma

lotionumbrellaIf you're headed for the sun-baked shores, be warned: A recent study shows a link between warm-weather vacations and greater numbers of moles in white women. Since large numbers of moles are a risk factor for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, the implications are frightening. According to a study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, white English women who vacation in hot countries have 74 percent more moles than those who have never vacationed in tropical climates.

The researchers, led by Isabel dos Santos Silva at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, determined that the association was greater in women who took these holidays between the ages of 18 and 29, and that their moles were more likely to appear on the trunk and lower limbs — areas typically covered up in everyday life and thus more vulnerable to sunburn and other sun damage from the intense exposure often sustained during hot-weather vacations. It is this type of intermittent, intense sun exposure that has been particularly linked to melanoma. The study included over 750 white English women ages 18-46, who responded to a questionnaire and had full-body skin exams.

"This study supports the hypothesis that intense, intermittent sun exposure plays an important role in the development of melanoma," said Perry Robins, MD, President of The Skin Cancer Foundation. And, as the authors observed, "These findings are of public health relevance given the growing popularity of foreign holidays."

So if you're fleeing the cold, protect yourself with these warm weather vacation tips:

Be Sunscreen Smart: A broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 is a must. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Apply one ounce, or two tablespoons, every two hours, or immediately after swimming or sweating heavily.

Cover up! More clothes may seem counter-intuitive at the beach or pool, but sarongs, long sleeves, and wraps will shade your skin and help keep you cool.

Accessorize: Sunglasses that block the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation will help protect your eyes from conditions ranging from cataracts to macular degeneration, while a broad-brimmed hat (with at least a 3" brim) will help protect the top of your head, neck, and scalp.

Avoid Glare: Surfaces such as water and sand reflect the sun's UV radiation back at you, adding to the intensity of exposure. Seek the shade with a large sun umbrella, and hit the hot spots early in the morning or late in the afternoon - you'll beat the crowds and save your skin!