May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and the beginning of the outdoor season. Skin Cancer is one of the most common cancers in the U.S., but also it is one of the most preventable.
Most cases of skin cancer can be prevented by avoiding overexposure to Ultraviolet (UV) rays. UVA and UVB are the two main types of sun rays, and both cause skin cancer by damaging the DNA in our skin cells. Each year, there are a reported 2 to 3 million skin cancers worldwide and the rate continues to rise.
It is important to get active outside to help get that much-needed vitamin D from the sun, but you still need to protect yourself. Most people will get sufficient vitamin D from the sun after 5-30 minutes of exposure twice a week with unprotected skin. In addition, eating foods that are good sources of vitamin D should help too.
Here are some ways to protect your skin from the sun as the cookout season starts and pools begin to open for summer fun.
The evidence is clear that you lower your skin cancer risk by: limiting your time in the sun between 11 am and 3 pm from March through October; applying high-factor sunscreen frequently; and wearing a hat, sunglasses and clothes that cover your arms and legs when you are outdoors. In addition to covering up, avoid sunbeds or tanning booths because these are just as damaging as the sun. The more often you expose your skin to sun and indoor tanning light, the higher your risk for skin cancer. This is particularly worrying as indoor tanning facilities have become more accessible to younger people.
The evidence that diet may help fight skin cancer is not clear. There are several studies that suggest potential for protective help from certain foods, such as tomatoes, watermelon, papaya, and pink or red grapefruit (foods rich in lycopene), as well as some dark, leafy vegetables. But many of these findings are not conclusive and should not replace covering up or lathering on the sunscreen.
So, before you head out to heat up the grill or take that first dive into the pool, make sure that your skin is protected and do your part to reduce your risk of skin cancer.
Visit the National Institutes of Health for more information on sunlight and cancer.