The Dark Side of the Sun


At some point in your life, you’ve either said or heard it said when it’s come to using a sunscreen: “I just want to get some color my first time out,” and “I won’t be outside that long,” or “My darker skin tone can take the sun.” But fact is, in the heat we’ve been experiencing it only takes 10 minutes to get a sunburn (less if you’re very fair complected). And those sunburns start putting us at risks for the most common type of cancer: skin.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, if you suffer five or more significant sunburns in your lifetime, you’ve also doubled your chances for developing melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. A child younger than five years old who suffers a significant sunburn increases their risk of developing skin cancer later in life by 50 percent. 

Still each year, the CDC reports that about 84,000 people in the U.S. alone are diagnosed with melanoma, and more than 8,000 die.

Signs of Melanoma

-A new spot on the skin or a spot that is changing in size, shape, or color

Change in the surface of a mole – scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or the appearance of a lump.

A mole with irregular-shaped borders

-Redness or swelling outside of the borders of a mole

-A small sore that doesn’t heal. Some people mistake this for a pimple or an insect bite.

-Most – but not all- melanomas are the size of a pencil eraser or larger

 Check your body each month, including dark spots under fingernails and feet.

 Protect Yourself

The best way to avoid sun damage is to limit your time in direct sunlight, specifically between 10am and 4pm, when the sun’s UV rays are the strongest – even in winter.

Do a computer search for UV Index in your city for important information to help you safely plan outdoor activities. 

Wear a wide brim hat that sun rays can’t penetrate. Don’t wear visors, straws hats with holes, or baseball caps.

Clothing that is thinner, tighter and lighter doesn’t screen the sun well. Brighter or darker colors and loosely fit fabrics that are densely woven do a better job of absorbing UV rays.

Don’t be fooled by a cloudy day; UVA rays go right through clouds – and the glass windows of your office or car. (That’s why many people show more signs of skin damage on the left side of their face.)

What to Know About Sunscreens

Your skin’s first defense is wearing a sunscreen every day – and not just in summer.

First thing to do is throw away any containers you still have from last year. The active compounds have more than likely loss their effectiveness.

When choosing a sunscreen, make sure to look for the words “broad-spectrum,” which will protect against both the aging UVA and burning UVB rays. It should contain a sun protection factor (SPF) with 30 or higher strong enough to last two hours. Note: The Skin Cancer Foundation has found that an SPF 30 blocks about 97% of UV rays and an SPF of 50 blocks 98%. No sunscreen blocks the sun’s rays completely. This is not to be confused with a moisturizer with SPF 30, which is not enough protection for all day.

Dermatologists say the biggest mistake people make – other than not wearing any sunscreen- is thinking that they don’t have to reapply it every two hours, especially if they wear a higher SPF. But you do have to.

Use water-resistant formulas (the term waterproof is no longer allowed) for swimming and sweaty sports when you need to cover large body areas like your back and chest.

For Children Younger Than 6 months:

Don’t use sunscreen with chemicals. Use products like Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Zinc Oxide Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50, Thinkbaby SAFE Sunscreen SPF 50+ or Coppertone Kids Sunscreen Tear Free Mineral-Based Water-Resistant Lotion SPF 50.

The lower lip and eyelids are prime areas for precancerous and squamous cell cancers, so wear sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection and lip balm with an SPF 30.

Dark-colored Complexions

While only a small number of Americans with darker complexions are diagnosed with melanoma each year, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) reports that they are at a higher risk of dying from skin cancer if they do get it. The AAD recommends that people of color use a tinted mineral sunscreen with an SPF 30.

 How Much to Apply?

Lotions are your best choice because you can control the coverage. Dermatologist recommend putting a teaspoon worth of lotion on your face, neck and chest (don’t forget the ears) and a shot-glass portion on your body (that includes your hands and feet (if you’re wearing open toe or no shoes.)

If you prefer the convenience of a spray, be sure to spray the skin thoroughly, front and back sides, until it shines before rubbing it in with your hands. Never spray your face. Instead spray your palms and blend that over your face and ears.

In either case, allow the sunscreen to dry 20 minutes before exposing yourself to the sun.

Have Fun, Just be Smart

Melanoma can be treated successfully if it is detected early and can be avoided, so starting skin protection at any age is still beneficial.