Saving your skin

The most important thing you can do to avoid skin cancer is to minimize your UV light exposure. That means protecting your skin from the sun and avoiding tanning beds or lamps. Here are a few sun safety tips that will let you enjoy your time outdoors safely:

  • Use a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15 (30 if you work outside or plan to spend most of the day outside). Choose one that protects against both types of UV light (UVA and UVB). Some products combine a moisturizer and sunscreen in one for added convenience.
  • If you can, schedule outdoor activities before or after the peak sun hours of 11 am to 4 pm.
  • Cover up – use a hat, sunglasses, and clothing that will cover as much exposed skin as possible (for example, opt for longer pants, long sleeves, or a longer skirt). "Wrap-around"-style sunglasses are ideal because they let in less light than other styles.
  • Spend time in shaded areas or under umbrellas during the peak sun hours (11 am to 4 pm).
  • Babies under one year of age should be kept out of direct sunlight. Protect the baby from direct sunlight using an umbrella, a stroller cover, or clothing and hats.
  • Find out whether your medications increase your risk of sunburn. Certain antibiotics and acne medications can increase your sensitivity to the sun. Birth control pills can lead to darker skin patches on the cheek and forehead areas when these areas are exposed to the sun. If you're taking any of these medications, check with your doctor or pharmacist.

If you want to stay safe but still love that tanned look, you may want to try a sunless tanning product (also called "self-tanning" products). These products, which usually come as a cream or a gel, contain a dye that binds to dead skin cells, producing a tanned colour. The colour usually wears off in about a week when the dead skin sloughs off. Sunless tanning products need to be applied regularly in order to maintain the colour. Wash your hands with soap and water after applying the product to avoid transferring it to other areas of the body. Some products also contain sunscreen, but the sunless tanning product on its own does not protect you from the sun.

Regular skin examinations are another tool in the fight to prevent skin cancer. The Canadian Dermatology Association suggests that everyone should perform a monthly skin self-exam. This will help you become more familiar with your own skin so that you can notice changes and have them checked out by a doctor. See "Spotting it early" for hints on what changes to watch for. You should also have your skin examined by a doctor every year.

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