Experts say skin cancer is largely preventable if people take a few simple precautions. But David J. Leffell, MD, a professor of dermatology and surgery at the Yale School of Medicine and author of Total Skin: The Definitive Guide to Whole Skin Care for Life, says he’s actually treating more, not fewer, cases of the illness. “I see young women with skin cancer who never would have had it in the past. And almost everyone in this group has used a tanning parlor.” A recent survey found that one in five people ages 18 to 29 have used tanning beds; the numbers do go down as people get older—but not by much. Needless to say, one of Dr. Leffell’s top tips for prevention is to avoid tanning booths. What other things can you do to protect yourself from skin cancer? Here, six ways to be sun-safe.
Watch the clock. Stay out of the sun between the peak hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Pick a smarter sunblock. Stick with an SPF of 15 or higher, and make sure the label says it blocks UVA and UVB radiation—both can damage skin in different ways. Virtually all reputable sunblocks guard against UVB rays, and those with avobenzone (Parsol 1789) or oxybenzone reflect UVA rays too. Chemical-free sunscreens with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide block both. Apply a palmful about 30 minutes before heading out, and reapply every two hours and after swimming.
Wear your protection. Sporting-goods stores are now stocking stylish sun-protective clothing for the beach (or anywhere). And while you’re out shopping, don’t forget to pick up a pair of sunglasses; your eyes can get sunburned, too.
Sport a reminder. Try the new sun-sensitive wristbands from SpaFinder ($5) that turn from white to purple when exposed to UVA rays. Proceeds are used for skin-cancer research and awareness campaigns.
Drink more coffee. One caffeinated cup may lower your risk of nonmelanoma cancer by 5%—and the more you drink, the more benefits you may get, according to a large study from Wayne State University in Detroit. (Caffeine may help eliminate skin cells with sun-damaged DNA, preventing their ability to replicate.) You don’t like coffee? Any caffeinated beverage could help. But remember: Caffeine is no substitute for covering up, wearing sunblock, or avoiding the beach at midday.
Check your skin … and get help. Once-a-year self-checks are recommended, at a minimum. Have your partner look at areas you can’t see—that boosts your chances of early detection. And don’t forget to check your palms, the soles of your feet, and your scalp. If anything looks unusual, head to the doc pronto. Can’t get an appointment? Dr. Leffell suggests telling the receptionist that you think you have signs of melanoma. Annual derm appointments may be worthwhile too.
By Linda Formichelli