Don’t Get Burned This Summer: Protect Your Skin to Help Avoid Skin Cancer

True or false: the sun can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes.  

If you said true, you’re right! It’s important to think about sun safety no matter how little time you plan to spend outdoors enjoying the sunshine and summer activities.  

Sunscreen is the most talked-about way to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays, known as UV rays. Choosing a sunscreen is a matter of preference, but you should choose one that has a sun protection factor, or SPF, of 15 or higher and reapply it after wearing it for two hours or after swimming or using a towel to dry off, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

Sunscreen isn’t the only way to protect yourself. Wear a hat that shades your face, ears and the back of your neck. Wearing sunglasses can protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts.  

It’s hot outside and although long sleeves, long pants and skirts can protect you from UV rays, it may not be practical to wear those items when it’s hot. Wear a T-shirt or beach cover-up. A wet T-shirt won’t offer as much protection.  

You can check the UV index on your phone’s weather app or online. If the UV index is 3 or higher, it’s especially important to protect your skin.  

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 5 million skin cancers are diagnosed each year. Many of those could be prevented by protecting skin from too much sun exposure and not using indoor tanning devices. 

The cancer society estimates that more than 97,600 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed this year. While people with lighter skin are at higher risk, everyone is considered at-risk for developing some form of skin cancer.  

You should keep an eye on changes in your skin and do a periodic self-check, according to the cancer society. While you may have seen pictures of skin issues that were diagnosed as melanoma, not all skin cancers look alike.  

The society suggests looking for the following signs on your skin:  

  • A new growth that changes or a spot or bump on the skin 
  • A sore that bleeds or doesn’t heal for several weeks 
  • A rough or scaly red patch that might crust or bleed 
  • A wart-like growth 
  • A mole that changes in size, shape or color 
  • A mole with an odd shape, unusual border or areas with different colors 

If you find something unusual on your skin and you have concerns, talk with your healthcare provider who can check it for you.  

Skin cancer can also appear in other ways. To learn more about skin cancer and melanoma, visit the American Cancer Society website to see photos and learn about the signs and symptoms of certain types of skin cancer.  

Finding skin cancer early means your healthcare provider has a better chance of treating it successfully.  

Want to learn more about cancer in Virginia? Visit the Virginia Department of Health Virginia Cancer Registry and the Virginia Cancer Action Coalition’s website.