Be Sun Smart This Summer

Bottle of SPF 35 sun screen.Think twice before basking on the beach or slipping into a tanning booth this summer — that perfect tan comes with a price tag. Last year, more than a million Americans of all ages were diagnosed with some form of skin cancer.

“Indoor and outdoor tanning are equally risky because both expose you to ultraviolet radiation in the form of UVA and UVB rays,” says John Kirkwood, MD, director of the Melanoma and Skin Cancer Program at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

Both have been shown to increase your risk of skin cancer.

“UV rays increase your risk for skin cancer because they trigger mutations, and also knock out the immune response that enables the body to protect itself,” says Dr. Kirkwood. Skin cancers caused by UV rays may not appear for years — lulling people into thinking that tanning and sun exposure are safe and even healthy.

Are You at Risk?

Not just sun worshippers are in danger. You can be, too, if you have:

  • An increased number of moles
  • A personal or family history of skin cancer
  • A sensitivity to the sun or freckling tendency that makes you work extra hard to tan
  • Had two or more serious sunburns before age 18
  • A job or recreational activity that regularly puts you in the sun

What Can You Do?

Avoid tanning beds, and work at reducing your exposure to strong sources of UV light, such as natural sunshine. Choose a broad-spectrum sun protection product that has a high SPF to protect against UVA and UVB rays, such as one that contains micronized zinc oxide or titanium oxide. And be sure to alert your doctor to skin changes such as itchy, scaly patches, wounds that won’t heal, an increased number of moles, or new, changing, or unusual moles.

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