May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, so now is a wonderful time for us to pause and consider the dangers of excess sun exposure and how we can stay healthy while still having fun in the sun.
Sun Exposure is Good…To a Degree
There’s a common misconception that sun exposure is bad. You’ve been told to lather on the sunscreen, cover your arms, legs, and face with special clothing, and stay inside whenever possible. And while there are truths hidden behind these suggestions, don’t fall for the myth that sun exposure is a terrible thing. You actually need some sun exposure in order to be a healthy, fully functioning person.
“We get about 90 to 95 percent of our vitamin D from the sun,” says professor Michael Holick, author of The UV Advantage. “It is essential for absorbing calcium, keeping our bones healthy, and for protecting against serious chronic diseases later in life such as osteoporosis, Type II diabetes, multiple sclerosis and many common cancers.”
Holick even advises going outside without sunblock on for 5-15 minutes per day, at least three times per week in the spring and summer. He says this significantly boosts vitamin D levels (most people are deficient).
There are other reasons to support the need for healthy amounts of sun exposure. Research has shown that the sun boosts mood levels, reduces the risk of heart disease, increases fertility, and even relives aches and pains.
But, as you’re well aware, excess exposure to the sun is dangerous and can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer. So, as you start to spend more time outdoors, make sure you understand what it looks like to stay healthy while having fun in the sun.
Here are a few helpful tips:
- Find a Sunscreen That You Love
The reason most people don’t apply sunscreen as part of their daily routine is that they hate the idea of applying something messy. “If you think your sunscreen is pasty, thick or smelly, you have the wrong kind,” says Jeffrey Dover, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at Yale University. “It may make you less likely to put it on, or to reapply when you do.” Find a lightweight sunscreen product that you like and it’ll be easier for you to use it on a daily basis.
- Avoid Peak Hours
There’s nothing better than spending time outdoors during the spring and summer, but make sure you’re picking the right hours of the day. The sun’s rays are strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Try your best to limit exposure during these hours and instead enjoy early morning or late afternoon sunlight.
- Wear a Hat
Your face and head usually face the biggest risk when it comes to sun exposure. In order to stay healthy and avoid skin-related issues, try wearing a hat. A regular baseball cap is fine, but wide-brimmed hats are even better. Luckily, they’re also in style. Along these same lines, it’s smart to wear sunglasses with total UV protection. This will help prevent future eye problems, like cataracts.
- Learn to Love the Shade
If you have young children, find ways to help them have fun in the shade. This may mean opening up the garage door and playing games inside. It could also look like enjoying time on a covered patio or playing board games underneath a poolside umbrella. You definitely want to get them outside, but be wary of letting them be directly exposed to the sun for hours on end.
- Get Familiar With Your Skin
It’s important that you understand your skin and know how to look for changes. Things like new moles, skin markings, bumps, or even scaly spots could indicate the beginning of skin cancer. If you already have moles that have been checked by a dermatologist in the past, look for changes in texture, color, size, or shape. The good news is that, when caught early, skin cancer is easy to treat.
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