July is a prime month for sunburns, but protecting your skin from sun damage is a year-round task. No matter where you live, putting sunscreen on before you head out the door is just as important in the summer as it is in the wintertime. With July marked as National UV Awareness Month, this is a great opportunity to educate patients (and yourself) about protection from the sun’s damaging rays.
Skin protection doesn’t mean the end of beach days, but it does call for extra attention and a little planning. The American Academy of Dermatology Association raises awareness about this campaign each year and offers lots of resources and tips for folks who are interested in how to easily incorporate sun protection into their routines.
Many people realize that sunscreen is important to bring and use for a day spent outside, but the regular sunscreen habit is important for a few reasons. Making sunscreen a habit means you’ll protect your skin from damaging UV rays every day, not just when you’ll be outside for an extended time. And that makes a big difference over the course of your lifetime because all those smaller days without protection quickly add up with the minutes you’ll spend walking the dog, running errands, gardening, or sitting by a sunny window.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the color of your skin makes no difference in the need to protect yourself from UV rays. Sun protection is essential to keep both cosmetic issues like wrinkles or premature aging and serious threats to health like skin cancer at bay. For people of color, the very darkest skin tones may offer some minor sun protection, but nothing that would offer the safety that sunscreen will. Companies are beginning to recognize how important it is to offer sunscreen that will work with different skin tones.
Sun protection also comes in other forms. You can wear hats with a wide brim to protect your face, ears, and neck, but even a baseball cap can help (just be sure to put sunscreen on the skin that’s not covered–particularly the tops of your ears and your neck). Tightly woven clothing can also offer protection that rivals an SPF (but a regular t-shirt offers only about the equivalent of an XXX SPF). Swim shirts and shorts are excellent for when you’re spending time in the water and won’t be able to reapply sunscreen frequently.
Of course, the earlier you start protecting your skin, the better. Many adults who have spotty or little history of using sun protection can take important steps now. Visiting a dermatologist every year for a full-body skin check will allow your team to spot any concerning changes in your skin. They should check every area of skin–from your scalp to between your toes–because melanoma, the most deadly skin cancer, can appear in areas that have never been exposed to the sun.
Between visits, keep an eye on your skin and don’t second guess new moles or areas that seem itchy, are bleeding, or look like a pimple that won’t go away. Those concerning areas need to be checked to rule out anything serious or to develop a treatment plan for something that is, or has the potential to be, cancerous.