May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. As we head into a sun-filled summer, there’s no better time than now to learn more about the only armor we’ve got: our skin.
Some of us don’t take skincare too seriously and that needs to change. Sure, a little bit of sun exposure is great for soaking up much-needed vitamin D, but you’ve heard time and time again just how damaging and detrimental too much sun exposure can be for the skin. Not only will too much sun exposure put you at risk for a really nasty sunburn, but it can even give your body lifelong wrinkles, sunspots and in worst-case scenarios, put you at serious risk for skin cancer.
Sure, wearing the best sunscreen while out and about under the sun and applying the best facial moisturizers after steamy showers can do wonders for your skin, but there are a lot of other components that go into skincare.
We recently were able to have a chat with Alicia Zalka, MD, Board Certified Dermatologist and Founder of Surface Deep to chat everything surrounding skin, including tips, tricks and risks to consider when dealing with skincare and sun exposure — and when we say we learned a lot, that’s an understatement.
What Are Some Harmful Habits?
Little did we know, we have been practicing so many harmful habits surrounding skincare over the course of our lives. Today, modern men and women alike are unknowingly putting themselves at risk for skin cancer in a multitude of ways.
Well, for starters, you’re supposed to have a full-body skin exam done with a dermatologist yearly to ensure nothing is changing or growing on your skin that you haven’t noticed. Additionally, most of us don’t perceive that incidental sun exposure adds up — sun damage can happen in small gradual ultraviolet exposures. Meaning, yeah, that nasty sunburn you got a few years ago can still negatively affect your body now.
Think about the last time you brought one of the best beach umbrellas to the beach. Have you even done so in the past few years? Well, if not, you must. Dr. Zalka tells us that sun protection near or on the water is absolutely necessary. From sunscreen to umbrellas to hats, any lack-of under the sun is a total no-no.
When asking Zalka if we should be protecting our bodies with SPF even when the sun isn’t shining, she says, “Without question, yes. Hazy and cloudy days still allow ultraviolet rays (which are a form of radiation, don’t forget) to be absorbed by your skin. Also, rainy days turn to sunny days. So, while you think it will be rainy all day, the sun may come out midday and you will get caught unprepared without having your SPF.”
Therefore, if you aren’t already, SPF daily is a must.
What Other Factors Should I Consider?
Interestingly enough, Dr. Zalka says she often asks her patients, “where did you grow up?” This allows her to get a better understanding of her patients’ lifetime cumulative of sun exposure.
“While one’s lifestyle and habits are much more telling than simply geography, the following locales can put a person more at risk for skin cancer if a large portion of work or leisure time is spent outdoors,” says Dr. Zalka.
She mentions that people doing life in the following living situations should take extra precaution when venturing outdoors:
- Coastal communities, especially closer to the Equator (the same person living on the coast in Maine is less at risk than a person living in the Florida Keys).
- High altitude locations
- Golf courses
Additionally, Zalka mentions that those living in Australia are more prone to skin cancer and other skin-related conditions due to a multitude of factors.
Her best advice for those living under any of these circumstances? Wear protective clothing and seek shade outdoors whenever you can.
How Do We Lower the Risk of Skin Cancer?
In order to lower the risk of getting skin cancer and damaging your skin, it’s best you both understand and do all of the above. Keep out of the sun for long periods of time, wear SPF sunscreen every day and get your yearly full-body skin exam to make sure everything’s consistently good.
In addition to the steps above, Dr. Zalka also suggests that in addition to your yearly exams, have a loved one or somebody you trust do quick exams on your body. This will ensure that nothing new is going on with your body in between professional exams to help keep your mind at ease. Have your loved one look specifically for new, changing moles, bleeding or non-healing growths or spots and irregular dark patches. Do the same for them so you both can be sure. If you want to learn more about how to do self-exams, read more from the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Last but not least, Dr. Zalka really can’t express how important it really is to wear SPF sunscreen daily. Yeah, it might seem like a hassle, but consider it the same thing as brushing your teeth. Getting dressed in the morning. Throwing on deodorant. Taking your daily prescription. It’s a must.
“SPF 30 is the minimum I recommend. Planning for a very sunny day during which you will spend more than 15 minutes outdoors? Use an SPF-containing moisturizer and apply regular sunscreen also. Two layers are more protective than one,” says Zalka, “I also suggest broad-spectrum products that protect against UVA/UVB and HEVL (high energy visible light). Look for zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, also known as mineral ingredients, which offer sun ‘block’ protection.”
Need a little bit of help? Check out our favorite sunscreens to consider now, with our top three listed below.