Labor Day weekend marks the unofficial end of summer. And you know what that means: It's time for one last trip to the beach, a family barbecue-- or any other reason to get outside and enjoy the last of the warm weather.
But, with melanoma rates on the rise, it’s also time to revisit some simple tips for staying safe in the sun.
The skin is the largest organ in the body, so it’s a bit unsurprising that skin cancer is the most common of all cancers.
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. It is characterized by the uncontrolled growth of pigment-producing cells. While melanoma only accounts for 4 percent of skin cancers, it is responsible for 79 percent of skin cancer deaths.
People are typically diagnosed with melanoma between the ages of 45 and 55, but 25 percent of cases occur in individuals younger than 40.
Younger people aren’t immune to dangerous consequences of sun exposure either – melanoma is the leading cause of cancer death in women ages 25 to 30.
But – though it’s important to be aware of the risks – there’s no need to hide from the sun. Melanoma is treatable when diagnosed early, and there are some simple steps you can take to prevent it all together. Just follow these simple tips:
1. Take cover
While some sun exposure is important for the production of Vitamin D, you need a lot less than you probably think you do, dermatologists say. To make vitamin D, you only need about 10 minutes of unprotected sun exposure, and it can even be during the morning or evening, when the sun’s rays are less intense.
You should actually never be unprotected during the middle of the day, from about 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., and research shows a simple white T-shirt isn’t enough. White T-shirts offer a sun protection factor (SPF) of about 4. For better protection, try clothes with a thicker weave or darker colors.
There are also products available that allow you to wash UV protection into clothing.
2. Choose the right SPF
Not all SPF sunscreens offer protection against UVA and UVB rays. In fact, a number of them only block UVB rays. UVB rays are more often blamed for causing skin cancer because they directly affect DNA and cells, but that doesn’t mean UVA rays are without danger.
According to scientists, UVA rays have longer wavelengths and are able to penetrate deeper into skin, which can cause wrinkles and play a role in skin cancer.
Look for sunscreens that offer broad-spectrum protection, meaning that the bottle indicates it protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
Medical officials recommend using a sunscreen with a SPF of at least 30. Apply about a half hour before sun exposure and reapply frequently throughout the day.
3. Check your skin
Make it a point to schedule a yearly skin check with your dermatologist, no matter how old you are. And in between appointments, check out things for yourself once every few months.
There’s no need to nitpick, just look for anything abnormal or any major changes. If a mole is larger, darker, black or bleeding, you should go see your doctor. Make sure to check out the upper back and legs especially because these are areas that are often exposed to sun.
Remember, melanoma is treatable with surgery if it is found early. Do not hesitate to call a dermatologist if something looks strange. Likely, the dermatologist will use an ultraviolet lamp to check out moles on the skin. If there is a little white halo around them, this may be an indication that the mole is changing.
Mole biopsies are non-invasive, simple and virtually painless.
4. Get your fill of antioxidants
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables will not only keep you looking good, it will also help fight against most cancers.
For an added boost of protection, look into buying a topical vitamin C serum, which will help build up a small amount of inherent protection in the body in case you forget to put on sunscreen one morning.
Listen, I know having to think about cancer and skin health is a bummer when you just want to enjoy the last of the sunny, warm days. But melanoma is so easy to prevent, and it only takes a few minutes out of your day to do so.
So be careful and be safe, but most of all, have a great time outdoors this weekend.
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Click here for more information on Dr. Manny's work with Hackensack University Medical Center. Visit AskDrManny.com for more.