By Jonathan Dugas
Woman relaxing by pool in summer - Vitality

Who doesn’t love seasons?  Especially summer, because as they say, “outside is free.”  When Winter finally moves to the rear-view mirror, and Spring is well on its way, it’s time to enjoy all the things we love about Summer, but not until you take a few precautionary measures before you head outside.

Skin cancer is probably not something you think about before you enjoy some time in the sun, but it should be. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that 20% of Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, and since the average lifespan is around 79 years that means that many of us will suffer from skin cancer in our lives. That’s the bad news.  The good news is that if you detect it early the survival rate can be as high as 99%–which more than anything else speaks to the power of screening and early detection. The other good news is that we have a very good understanding of what causes skin cancer:  sun exposure, and specifically sun burns.  Want more good news?  You can reduce your sun exposure and risk of burning by doing a few simple things.

First, understand that in the middle of the day, between about 10:00 am and 3:00 pm, the sun is at its strongest. It’s during this time that you are most likely to burn, and it can happen more quickly than you think. So, if you have to be outside, try to do it before 10:00 am or after 3:00 pm. Next, wear sunscreen, and choose a product with a high Sun Protection Factor (SPF). It’s kind of magical, just smearing some cream on your skin, but the higher the number, the longer you can be exposed to the sun before you burn. Just remember that sunscreen isn’t a forcefield, though. It does protect you from the sun’s harmful ultra-violet (UV) rays, but it’s really the minimum protection you should have.

If you know you are going to be outside and in direct sunlight, try to cover your exposed skin as much as you can. It might sound crazy to cover up in the middle of the summer, but this is most effective way to block the sun’s rays. In 2022 there is excellent technical clothing that will help keep you from getting too hot while also blocking the sun’s rays. If you cannot cover up, try to wear any kind of hat. The skin on our faces is particularly sensitive to the sun’s effects. A wide-brimmed hat is best, but if all you have is a baseball cap to shield your face that’s ok—some protection is better than none. And when wearing only a baseball cap, don’t forget about applying sunscreen to your ears and neck.

Finally, if you can, seek shade—whenever you can. In the peak hours of the day the sun can be strong and it won’t take long to burn. Seeking shade is a sure way to reduce your sun exposure, even if it is for only part of the time you are outside.

All of these things can really help you reduce the damage caused by the sun’s rays. If you can do all of them, that’s amazing!  But if you can only do some of them, that is also great. The sun’s damage accumulates over your lifetime, which means that the more time you are exposed to UV rays the more damage your skin will suffer over your lifetime. The Skin Cancer Foundation actually recommends that all adults stay aware of any changes to their skin. Moles or other spots that might change color in appearance could indicate a problem, so if you experience this it’s best to let a dermatologist examine your skin to make sure—remember, if detected early the five-year survival rates for skin cancer are 99%. Needless to say, the power of early detection is real.

With a PhD in Exercise Physiology, Jonathan Dugas spends his days thinking about how we can help more people be more active.  With four Ironman finishes and 13 marathons and counting, he’ll see you out on the road.

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