Wednesday’s Ask Dr. Walt — How Do I Protect My Skin from Cancer?

This Q&A was adapted from my just-released-book, Fit over 50: Make Simple Choices Today for a Healthier, Happier You. It was adapted for the July issue of Today’s Christian Living. If you don’t have a subscription, I highly recommend it.

Dear Dr. Walt,

We’re planning to hit the Jersey shore several times this summer and are finding all types of different advice on how to protect our skin and prevent skin cancer. Since skin cancer runs in my and my spouse’s family, count us interested.

—Sun Seekers in New Jersey

Dear Tan Your Hides,

Reducing exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays can reduce your risk of getting skin cancer, including melanoma. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the sun causes 90 percent of all nonmelanoma skin cancers, and other research links it to 65 percent of all melanomas.

The CDC says you can reduce your risk of skin damage and skin cancer using simple sun protection tips. This is important to know because the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes. Follow these recommendations from the CDC to help protect yourself and your family (

• Shade. Even though seeking shade under an umbrella, tree, or other shelter gives relief from the sun, your best bet to protect your skin is to use sunscreen or wear protective clothing when you’re outside—even when you’re in the shade.
• Clothing. When possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants and skirts, which can provide protection from UV rays. Clothes made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection. A wet T-shirt offers much less UV protection than a dry one, and darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors. Some clothing certified under international standards comes with information on its ultraviolet protection factor. Keep in mind that a typical T-shirt has a sun protection factor (SPF) rating lower than 15, so use other types of protection as well.
• Hat. For the most protection, wear a hat with a brim all the way around that shades your face, ears, and the back of your neck. A tightly woven fabric, such as canvas, works best to protect your skin from UV rays. Avoid straw hats with holes that let sunlight through. A darker hat may offer more UV protection. And, if you wear a baseball cap, you should also protect your ears and the back of your neck by wearing clothing that covers those areas, using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15.
• Sunglasses. Sunglasses can protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the tender skin around your eyes from sun exposure. Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection. Most sunglasses sold in the US, regardless of cost, meet this standard. Wrap-around sunglasses work best because they block UV rays from sneaking in from the side.
• Sunscreen. Each product is assigned an SPF number that rates its effectiveness in blocking UV rays. Higher numbers indicate more protection. Always put on a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least an SPF of 15 before you go outside, even on slightly cloudy or cool days. The AAD says, “Choose a sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or higher, is water resistant, and provides broad-spectrum coverage, which means it protects you from UVA and UVB rays.” Don’t forget to put a thick layer on all parts of exposed skin. Get help for hard-to-reach places like your back. And remember, sunscreen works best when combined with other options to prevent UV damage.

© Copyright WLL, INC. 2019. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.
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