The 3 sun-safety commandments
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month—and perhaps my biggest frustration as a dermatologist is that this all-too-common cancer is preventable. The key for minimizing risk is committing to sun safety literally from birth, which is why it’s important for parents to establish these habits early on. Unfortunately, just a handful of childhood sunburns increase one’s lifetime skin cancer risk—and although this damage cannot be undone, it is 100% possible to protect the skin from UV rays today, tomorrow and for years to come.
On a related note, the pandemic has caused many patients to delay the excision of malignant moles. If you are diagnosed with a skin cancer, it’s best to schedule full removal within two to three months after your positive biopsy. (Obviously the sooner the better!)
The 3 Sun-Safety Commandments
UV protection: Repeat after me… “I will apply sunscreen every morning and will reapply at least every two hours as well as after swimming and sweating when I’m in the sun for a prolonged period of time.” UV protection also includes covering up with long-sleeves and pants, a hat and sunglasses whenever possible.
Sun-safe behavior: If you can, avoid direct sunlight when UV rays are at their peak, which is generally from 10am to 2pm. If outdoors during this time, try to enjoy the bright, sunny weather from a shady spot. Remember, you still need UV protection even when you’re under cover, as the sun’s rays reflect off many surfaces, especially sand.
Annual skin checks: I recommend annual full body exams for everyone, and more frequent skin checks for anyone at an elevated risk for skin cancer, such as those with a personal or family history, fair skin and/or red hair, and anyone who was a sun worshipper in the past. These quick check-ups catch most skin cancers early, which improves the chances of successful treatment. Regular full body exams are also important because innocent-looking brown or pink moles aren’t always benign—and only a dermatologist can make this determination.
If you’re overdue for your annual full-body check, this is your official reminder to make an appointment to ensure your skin’s health. (It’s easy to schedule your visit online whether you want an in-person or virtual* appointment!)
P.S. May is also Healthy Vision Month, and in addition to wearing sunglasses when outdoors, I recommend that everyone see an ophthalmologist annually to ensure optimal eye health.