Skin Cancer – How to Limit Sun Exposure to Reduce your Risk


We all know about skin cancer.

However, skin cancer isn’t something that anyone wants to think about. It’s easy to overlook. We all slather on the sunscreen when we remember, which definitely isn’t every time we go outside. Besides, we live in Vermont. Vermonters shouldn’t have to worry about skin cancer since we live so far north. Sadly, that’s not true. Skin cancer can affect anyone, no matter where you live.

Here’s what you need to know.

Check your skin.

Any changes in your skin could be a sign of skin cancer. The sooner you recognize any changes, the sooner you can seek treatment. If you catch skin changes at a pre-cancerous stage or early stage of skin cancer, it will be easier to treat. I know that seeing a doctor about a problem can be scary. It’s so tempting to ignore skin changes so you don’t have to face any frightening diagnoses. Unfortunately, that won’t make the problem go away. 

A few years ago, I noticed a small, rough patch of skin on my face. It didn’t look like anything much, but it felt like sandpaper. I vaguely remembered from my college days that the sandpaper texture was not a good sign. I was due for an annual physical at that time anyway, so I asked my doctor about it at my appointment. She didn’t like the look of the spot either, so she referred me to a dermatologist.

The dermatologist took one look at my spot and diagnosed it as actinic keratosis. It isn’t skin cancer, but it’s a precancerous growth that comes from UV damage. Luckily, my lesion was still at an early stage, so the dermatologist treated it that day by freezing it with liquid nitrogen. After the treatment, the spot blistered, but then it healed up nicely over time and left no scar. However, the dermatologist stressed that I need to be more vigilant in protecting my skin from the sun.

sunscreen and swim goggles

Wear sunscreen every day.

I know that applying sunscreen is a hassle, but it needs to become part of your daily routine. There are many great options for sunscreen these days, so try a few to find one that you like and will be more likely to use. I was good about applying sunscreen before spending a long time outside, but I missed all the short trips, like walking the dog or picking up the children from school. Sun damage is cumulative- it all adds up, so don’t skip the sunscreen!

In particular, you need to reapply sunscreen if you are spending a day at the beach or pool. The water reflects the sun’s rays, which can increase sun damage, and the water can wash the sunscreen off. I now bring sunscreen to the beach and reapply it at least once. Also, I wear sunscreen on car trips because of sun exposure through the windshield. 

beach umbrellas

Seek the shade.

When I am outside, I seek the shade whenever possible. For example, if my family is having an outdoor picnic, I find a table under a tree. If I want to read a book in my backyard, I set up a large umbrella over my chair. The shade will help limit your sun exposure while still allowing you to enjoy the great outdoors. It’s also helpful to schedule outdoor activities for the early morning or late evening when the sun’s rays won’t be as strong as during their midday peak.

Cover up.

Another good way to decrease your risk of developing skin cancer is to minimize your skin exposure by covering it up. I was always good about covering up my babies’ skin. This got harder as they grew up and I wasn’t setting a good example. I make my son wear a swim shirt with his trunks and my daughter and I either wear one-piece swimsuits or tankinis that cover the stomach and back. I also started bringing along cover-ups to wear to the beach to cover my shoulders and protect them from sun damage. Sunglasses are also important to protect both your eyes and the areas around your eyes that don’t get covered by sunscreen, such as your eyelids. With sunglasses, bigger is better!

Although I don’t really like hats, I finally found one that I liked so that I will actually wear it. I made sure to find one that offers a high level of sun protection and has a wide brim to provide as much sun protection as possible. I also bought a fabric hat that is machine washable that I can wear and then wash after outdoor, sweaty activities, such as hiking. The most important thing is to find a hat that you like so that you will wear it often. Hats are particularly important because they cover your scalp, which is often left exposed otherwise.

sun hat and sunglasses

To prevent skin cancer, you must protect your skin against the sun’s rays every single day.

Skin cancer treatments can leave you with scars. But skin cancer can kill. It’s easier to make the effort to protect your skin when you remember that you are protecting your life. Enjoy Vermont’s wonderful outdoor activities, but keep your skin safe in the process!



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