Stop Skin Cancer Before It Starts

Wear sunscreen everyday. About 80 percent of the average person's lifetime sun exposure is incidental--which means it occurs during daily activities, not lying on the beach. That's why it's important to cover exposed areas with sunscreen every day, even if you're just doing errands or going to work. Remember, too that you're still exposed to UV rays on cloudy days. "Even on a dark, rainy day, 20 to 30 percent of UV rays penetrate the clouds," says Rigel. On a cloudy day, 60 to 70 percent get through, and if it's just hazy, almost all the UV rays will reach you. Use sunscreen rain or shine.

Apply it right. First make sure you use enough--one ounce (a shot glass full) for your entire body. Slather it on 30 minutes before you hit the sun. Don't forget to cover the spots people often miss: lips, hands, ears, and nose. Reapply every two hours--for a day at the beach you should use half an 8-ounce bottle just on yourself--but towel off first; water dilutes SPF.

Watch the clock. UV rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you're out during these times, stay in the shade under a beach umbrella or a big leafy tree.

Wear a wide-brimmed hat. Choose one with at least a 2- to 3-inch brim all around. "Every 2 inches of brim lowers your skin-cancer risk by 10 percent," says Darrell Rigel, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology at New York University. It will protect your face, ears, neck, and scalp.

Try on UPF clothing. It's treated with a special coating to help absorb both UVA and UVB rays. As with SPF, the higher the UPF (it ranges from 15 to 50+), the more it protects. Regular clothes can shield you, too, provided they're made of tightly woven fabrics and come in darker colors. A dark-blue cotton T-shirt, for example, has a UPF of 10, while a white one ranks a 7. (As a test, hold the fabric near a lamp; the less light that shines through the better.) Also know that if clothes get wet, protection drops by half.

Buy the right sunglasses. Opt for a pair clearly labeled to block at least 99 percent of UV rays; not all do. Wider lenses will best protect the delicate skin around your eyes, not to mention your eyes themselves (UV exposure may contribute to cataracts and vision loss later in life).

Get moving. Researchers at Rutgers University showed that active mice develop fewer skin cancers than sedentary ones, and experts believe the same applies to humans. "Exercise strengthens the immune system," says Rigel, "and may help the body defend itself better against cancers."


Has a friend pushed you to get screened, or have you encouraged someone else to get a mole checked? We'd love to hear about it. Go to to share your story from May 7 through June 3. If we feature your story online, we'll send you a summer tote filled with a waterproof travel cosmetics bag, a protective hat, a sunglasses case, and a beach towel.

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