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How to protect your skin against the sun

Spending time outside is a great way to be physically active, reduce stress and get vitamin D naturally. You can work and play outside without raising your skin cancer risk by protecting your skin from the sun. Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. UV rays are an invisible kind of radiation that comes from the sun, tanning beds and sunlamps. UV rays can damage skin cells. Protection from UV rays is important all year, not just during the summer. UV rays can reach you on cloudy and cool days, and they reflect off of surfaces like water, concrete, sand and snow. UV rays tend to be strongest from 10 am to 4 pm daylight saving time (9 am to 3 pm standard time) in the continental US. The UV forecasts the strength of UV rays each day. If the UV index is 3 or higher in your area, protect your skin from too much exposure to the sun.

Wear sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 15. SPF refers to how long a person will be protected from a burn. (SPF 15 means a person can stay in the sun 15-times longer before burning.) SPF only refers to UVB protection. To protect against UVA, look for products containing: Mexoryl, Parsol 1789, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide or avobenzone. Sunscreen performance is affected by wind, humidity, perspiration and proper application. Throw away sunscreens after two years (they lose potency). Apply liberally (minimum of one ounce) at least 20 minutes before sun exposure. Apply to ears, scalp, lips, neck, tops of feet and backs of hands.

Reapply at least every two hours and each time you get out of the water or if you perspired heavily. Some sunscreens may lose their effectiveness when applied with insect repellents, so you may need to reapply more often.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US. The most common types of skin cancer include basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Indicators of skin cancer may include:

  • Colors that are not uniform throughout
  • Moles that are bigger than a pencil eraser
  • Itchy or painful moles
  • Moles with irregular borders or blurred edges
  • Moles that are not symmetrical (one half doesn’t match the other)
  • New moles
  • Sores that bleed and do not heal
  • Red patches or lumps