While it’s true that much of the ultraviolet (UV) damage to the skin happens during childhood and adolescence, that doesn’t mean your skin should be unprotected in adulthood. Every new sunburn you experience — at any age — increases your risk of developing skin cancer.
As we head in to the hottest months of the year, it’s important to take a few minutes to learn more about skin safety. That’s because non-melanoma skin cancer continues to be the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in the U.S. Older adults with compromised immune systems can be at especially high risk.
Here’s what older adults should know about skin cancer prevention:
Use Sunscreen: This generation of older adults grew up rarely, if ever, wearing sunscreen. As a result, they are less likely to use it now. But applying sunscreen is one of the best steps you can take to protect yourself from skin cancer. Don’t forget to cover the backs of your ears, the tops of your feet, and the back of your neck. These are areas people often forget about.
Apply and Reapply: Most people fail to apply enough sunscreen and to apply it often enough. In general, you should apply one full ounce every two to four hours. If you are swimming or sweating, you might need to apply it even more often.
Avoid Peak Sun: The sun’s rays are typically strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you can avoid being outside during these hours, you can lower your risk of skin cancer. Try to run errands, take your daily walk, and do other outdoor tasks around peak sun times.
Wear Quality Sunglasses: Don’t forget to protect your eyes from the sun’s rays, too. Like your skin, they are susceptible to UV damage. Opt for sunglasses that are more protective than decorative. Choose those with a label showing they meet UVA/UVB standards. In addition to preventing sun damage, wearing sunglasses can help lower your risk for developing cataracts.
Wear Protective Clothing: While it might not sound all that comfortable on a hot day, wearing lightweight long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and a hat that shields your face also helps protect skin. Some fabrics even have a sun protection factor (SPF) built in.
Car Sun Safety: Don’t forget to wear sunscreen and sunglasses when you are riding in a car. It’s easy to think you are safe, but sunburn can easily occur if you are a driver or passenger in a car.
Scan for Growths: Make a habit of checking your skin head-to-toe once a month for new growths or changes to old ones. Growths that have irregular borders, varying colors, or have increased in size should all be shared with your doctor.
See the Doctor: The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends seeing a dermatologist once a year for a skin cancer check. Catching potential problems early gives your physician an opportunity to intervene before the cancer is too advanced.
One final tip for remaining safe in the summer sun is to stay hydrated. Older adults are often at greater risk for dehydration for a variety of reasons including medication side effects. Keep water with you when you are outdoors and sip from it continuously.