Travelers should be advised—melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, has been linked most frequently to intense sun exposure, the kind often experienced during sunny beach and tropical vacations. This kind of concentrated ultraviolet radiation (UV) exposure frequently causes sunburn and severely damages the skin. On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns.
UV radiation from the sun also plays a crucial role in the development of nonmelanoma skin cancers. In fact, about 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to the sun’s UV rays.
“Proper sun protection is critical year-round, and you need to be even more diligent during periods of intense UV exposure,” said Perry Robins, MD, President, The Skin Cancer Foundation. “All sun exposure increases skin cancer risk, but the type of extreme exposure experienced on a sunny vacation after spending extended time indoors is especially hazardous.”
Those tempted to visit a tanning salon for a pre-vacation glow should also be advised: there is no such thing as a healthy or protective tan. Whether obtained by lying out in the sun or using a tanning bed, a tan represents DNA damage to the skin.
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends the following sun-safety tips for those headed to a sunny destination this season:
Cover Up: Clothing is your first line of defense against the sun’s harmful UV rays. It is the single most effective form of sun protection for the body because it offers a convenient and consistent shield. Rash guards are a great option for anyone spending time in the sun and water—the garment protects the covered areas for hours and there’s no reapplication required.
Shield Your Face: Don’t forget to pack the essential sun safety accessories. Sunglasses that filter out the sun's UV rays will help protect you from conditions including cataracts and skin cancer on the eyelid. A broad-brimmed hat (with at least a 3" brim all around), will protect the top of the head, neck, face, ears and scalp.
Beware of Reflection: Water and sand reflect the sun's UV rays, adding to the intensity of exposure.
Apply Sunscreen: Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Apply one ounce, or two tablespoons, every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating heavily.
Seek Shade: During peak sun hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), keep covered under a large sun umbrella. It’s best to hit the beach early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun is less intense—you'll avoid the crowds and protect your skin.
Avoid Tanning and Never Use UV Tanning Booths: Whether you “lay out” at the beach or visit a tanning salon, there is no such thing as a safe tan. Tanning is linked to all three forms of skin cancer. In addition, tanning leads to premature skin aging, including wrinkles, leathery skin and age spots.