I didn’t listen to my mother. Well…I kind of, sort of listened. I had dabbed on a small amount of sunscreen 2 hours into my beach adventure. How hot could the sun be in April? I wanted to leave Florida with a beautiful bronze tan. Instead, I looked like a lobster. Not just any lobster, no, I looked like a boiled lobster. My skin was fire engine red, covered in blisters, and incredibly painful. I couldn’t shower. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t even wear a bra or t-shirt without feeling absolutely miserable. Instead of coming home with a tan, I came home to weeks of peeling, damaged skin…beautiful indeed.
What I hadn’t realized at the age of 14 was that severe burns like this could set me up for skin cancer later in life. Almost twenty years later, I still have to remind myself to lather on the sunscreen. I never forget to apply and reapply my daughter’s sunscreen, but in the back of my mind I am still longing for my own beautiful golden glow. Although I love the sun-kissed look, I’ve decided that my flirtation with UV rays needs to end. I need to stop kissing the sun…before it kisses me with skin cancer!
Skin cancer disfigures. It leaves scars, and it kills. I wish that I only knew this from reading text books, but within the past five years I have lost one of my role models to melanoma, and my own mother was diagnosed with a large squamous cell skin cancer on her face. These experiences have prompted me to ask myself, “Why do I work so hard to protect my daughter from the dangers of the sun, while leaving myself exposed to its harmful UV rays? Am I really that vain that I care more about my appearance than ensuring that I’m around to annoy my grandchildren with sun hats, gallons of sunscreen, and a tent sized umbrella for the beach? ” My conclusion…I need to lather up, suit up, shade up, and check up before it’s too late!
1. Lather up
Sunscreen is a must for all women! Putting it on is the first step, but reapplying it is just as important. Sunscreen only lasts for about 2 hours. If you are swimming, sweating, or wiping yourself off with a towel, you will need to put it on more frequently. Make sure that you choose a sunscreen with broad coverage (UVA and UVB protection). This will ensure that you are not only protecting against a sunburn but also against the rays that penetrate more deeply. Your SPF should be at least 15, but if 50 is available use it instead! Higher than 50 doesn’t offer any additional protection as far as we can tell. For day-to-day, when you aren’t in the sun much, make sure that you are still protecting your face. The easiest way to do this is by using a facial cream that contains SPF.
2. Suit up
Wearing protective clothing is another way to limit your sun exposure. Many swimming suits and cover ups are made with UV protective fabric. Choosing one of these will help limit your exposure. If you aren’t planning on going for a swim and want to wear normal clothing, choose fabrics that offer more protection such as those made from tightly woven fabrics and darker colors. Another great option is to add sun protection to your clothes in the laundry. Companies like RIT now have laundry additives (such as Sun Guard) that add temporary UV protection to your clothes. Don’t forget a hat! Your head, face, and shoulders often get the most exposure. Wearing a broad rimmed hat (not just a baseball cap) can minimize this exposure the best. Finally, don’t forget to protect your eyes by wearing UV protective sunglasses!
3. Shade up
Look for shade! Use an umbrella at the beach and by the pool. Limit the amount of time that you spend in direct sunlight. You can still enjoy the beauty of a sunny day from underneath a canopy. Also, make sure to avoid being in direct sunlight during the most intense times of the day (between 10am and 2pm). Even if it is a cloudy day UV rays are still beaming down! Make sure that you still seek shade and apply your sunscreen. If you are going to be on the beach, near the pool, or even playing in the snow make sure to take extra precautions. Sand, water, and snow all reflect light. This only increases the strength and damaging power of UV (ultraviolet) rays. Finally, don’t think that trading in the outdoors for a tanning booth is going to do you any favors. Shade yourself from all UV light…even the artificial kind.
4. Check up
Look at your skin regularly, and for the hard to see parts, make sure that someone else is checking you out (a spouse, friend, or physician). If you notice that a mole has changed in size, shape, or color, get it checked out immediately! Using a mole map will make it easier to track changes in your skin. Make sure that you know the ABCDE’s of melanoma in order to be a good judge of what you are seeing. If you tend to have a lot of moles and sun spots, having a yearly skin check by your primary care physician or a dermatologist is a great idea.
Skin cancer can be prevented, and it can be effectively treated if caught early. These days if I get a sun kissed craving, I remind myself of the risks and reach for a bottle of bronzer instead. Who says a fake tan can’t be just as beautiful?
From The Mom in Me, MD