A Message from the President — Summer 2014

When we think of summer, we conjure up images of carefree days in a hammock or with iced tea in hand, outside with family and friends. But even when the living really is easy in summertime, we shouldn’t forget sun protection. Living a sun-safe life needn’t be complicated; follow these simple guidelines and you’re on your way to preventing skin cancer and slowing down skin aging.

Sunscreen: Just use it. Daily. A recent Australian study found that daily use of sunscreen cuts your risk of melanoma in half. Make it a morning ritual to apply sunscreen over all exposed skin before you leave the house. Apply about one ounce of sunscreen total each time, enough to fill a shot glass. A sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher will serve you well for brief everyday activities like fetching the mail or walking the dog, and if you’ll be out longer, use an SPF 30+ sunscreen. Look for the label “broad spectrum” to ensure that you’re protected against both UVA and UVB rays.

Remember, sunscreen is just one vital tool in an overall sun protection plan. Seek shade or stay inside during peak midday hours (10 AM – 4 PM). Wear sun-protective clothing, such as long sleeves, long pants, a wide-brimmed hat and UV-filtering sunglasses.

Base tans are bad for you. When you tan, the DNA in your skin cells is damaged, which accelerates skin aging and can cause mutations that develop into skin cancer. As a response to this photodamage, your cells produce more melanin (hence the tan) to help block out UV rays and prevent further damage. However, this extra protection is minimal, about an SPF of 3, and not worth the damage that produced it.

Avoid tanning beds. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently strengthened its oversight over tanning beds, recognizing that these devices pose a serious health risk. Tanning beds must now contain black box warnings stating they should not be used by minors under age 18. While we can’t control all the factors that lead to cancer, you can control this one. Stay out of tanning beds!

Check your skin. Examine your skin from head to toe once a month, looking for any changes in moles, freckles or other skin spots. Buddy up with a partner to help check hard-to-view areas, such as the back and scalp. Also, see a doctor once a year for a professional full-body skin exam. Skin cancers found and removed early are almost always curable. As you can see, sun safety and skin cancer prevention are pretty simple. Now try it and enjoy the summer with this peace of mind: you’re doing your best to protect your largest organ—your skin.

Perry Robins, MD

Published on August 13, 2014