Playing it safe in the sun can help you avoid skin cancers

WASHINGTON — Skin cancers can be debilitating and deadly, but a local cancer doctor believes sun exposure is one risk factor you have control over, and she wants you to exert that control and protect yourself.

One way is to use sunscreen.

“You’ve got to make it a lifestyle choice,” said Dr. Jennifer A. DeSimone, a dermato-oncologist with Inova. “Make it a habit.”

Covering up can help you avoid any hassle involved with sunscreen.

DeSimone said she loves hats, sunglasses and sun-protective clothing because you don’t have to worry about putting them on incorrectly, accidentally rubbing off the protection or having to reapply the sunblock every two hours.

“You know that advertised sun-protective factor of a mechanical blocker like clothing or a hat is not going anywhere,” DeSimone said.

Among other tips:

  • Try to avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. DeSimone prefers using SPF 30 or higher.
  • Realize you can get burned in cool weather and on cloudy days.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. After they’re 6 months old, use sunscreen on babies.

Tips for using sunscreen most effectively:

  • Apply 30 minutes before sun exposure.
  • Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming, sweating or toweling off.
  • Don’t forget to apply it to the tops of your ears and feet and the back of your neck.
  • Check the label to ensure that broad spectrum coverage includes both UVA and UVB protection.
  • Realize sunscreen shelf life can be reduced if exposed to high temperatures. It’s usually OK up to three years.

“Ultraviolet radiation is a true and measured risk factor for skin cancer, which can directly impact your life in a negative way,” DeSimone said. “In the nonfatal cases, there can be an awful lot of pain. Surgery is required — there can be disfigurement.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that sun exposure can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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