Hints for the Summer

I just got back from a family trip to Aruba. If you haven’t been, the beaches are as beautiful as you’d imagine, with clear turquoise water, majestic palms, and powdery white sand that reflects the hot sun above. Which brings me to the less beautiful part: I can’t tell you how many people I saw on those beaches with lobster-red skin. I’m talking children and adults who had clearly slapped on only a minimal amount of sunscreen—if they were wearing it at all—and certainly weren’t wearing a shred of sun-protective clothing.

Back home in Connecticut, we’re just starting to shed our heavy layers. As we plan for a summer of beach trips, backyard barbecues, and days on the golf course, I urge you all to remember a few simple rules:

Use sunscreen. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen (which protects against both aging UVA rays and burning, cancer-causing UVB) every morning. An SPF 15 is fine if you’re simply commuting to work—though remember that sunlight does travel through most car windows. Up that number to 30 if you’ll be outside for more than an hour, aiming to slick on a shot-glass worth to all exposed areas, including the backs of your knees, behind your ears, under bathing suit straps, and on your scalp. (I love sunscreen sprays for that last spot.) Reapply every 80 minutes if you’re outside.

Seek shade. Walking on the shady side of the street, using beach tents and umbrellas, and choosing the tree-covered picnic table not only keeps you cool but protects you from the UV rays that cause burns, wrinkles, and skin cancer. And keep in mind that sun-protective gear, like hats and clothing from coolibar.com, shield more reliably than the best sunscreen. (That thin white t-shirt offers protection equivalent to an SPF 10 at best.)

Know your skin. Take five minutes now and schedule monthly self-skin checks into your smart phone calendar. I’m always happy to show my patients how to perform a head-to-toe exam. But in a nutshell, remember ABCDE: A mole that’s asymmetrical, has an irregular border or uneven color, has a diameter greater than six millimeters, or is elevated needs to be assessed by a dermatologist to rule out melanoma. Spots that are scaly, painful, oozing or chronically bleeding could harbor basal- or squamous cell carcinoma, less serious forms of skin cancer.

Need more convincing—or know someone who does? This video spells out the need for better sun protection and awareness better than I ever could.