It’s hard not to get excited about the much-awaited start of summer and the idea of spending more time outside in the sun with friends and family.

With new research exposing the environmental harms of sunblock, however, and accelerating rates of skin cancer among older adults, you won’t want to miss this essential guide to sun protection.

What You Need to Know About Skin Cancer

Have you heard? New research is highlighting skin cancer as one of the fastest emerging epidemics among older adults. In fact, the average age for being diagnosed with skin cancer is 63 according to the American Cancer Society. What’s contributing to this climb in cases of skin cancer?

First of all, more and more baby boomers are aging into the 60+ bracket, a phenomenon commonly referred to as the “silver tsunami.”

Skin cancer risk goes up as you age, mostly due to the increased exposure to UV radiation that you have accumulated throughout your lifetime. The high number of older adults means more potential cases of skin cancer.

Secondly, skin cancer can be more likely to develop if you experience immune suppression as a result of a disease, illness, or virus.

The National Council on Aging has shared that approximately four out of five older adults have at least one chronic illness. This could mean that a great majority of the baby boomer population may have a weakened immune system and therefore have a harder time fighting off cancer cells.

Additional risk factors – light or fair skin that freckles and burns easily, smoking, exposure to certain chemicals, and even having green or blue eyes or red or blond hair – can increase your likelihood of developing skin cancer.

Sunblock and the Environment

Have you ever wondered what the “reef safe” labels mean that are popping up on new bottles of sunblock? They refer to the exclusion of ingredients in the sunblock formula, specifically oxybenzone and octinoxate, that have been shown to damage coral reef.

In 2018, Hawaii became the first state to ban sunscreens with those chemicals in them, and Key West is not far behind.

The truth is that, worldwide, oxybenzone and octinoxate are two of the most common UV-blocking ingredients used in sunscreen.

If you think about the millions of people hitting the beaches and lakes together during the summer with their sunscreens infiltrating the water ecosystems, it’s no surprise there is a threat to the environment.

If you’re curious to learn more, check out this sunscreen guide from Environmental Working Group. It provides lots of easy-to-read facts about mineral and non-mineral sunscreens, the differences in waterproof and sweatproof, and so much more.

How to Safely Protect Your Skin

Even if you are outside for a mere 30 minutes, that is more than enough time for UV rays to reach your skin and do damage.

Sun protection is absolutely essential to staying skin cancer free. And while there has been some concern about the chemicals in common sunblock formulae, more alternatives are becoming available that eliminate harmful toxins and still reflect, scatter, and absorb the sun’s dangerous radiation.

Whether you’re planning on hitting the beach or simply like to get outside for a tennis game, keep these skin protection tips in mind:

When in Doubt, Cover Your Skin with Clothes

A tight knit is going to filter less UV radiation through than an open-weave, and long sleeves and pants are going to cover more skin. If temperatures simply won’t allow for long clothing, consider wearing a t-shirt and shorts with sunblock to cover any exposed areas.

If you wear wrist support or other exercise aid, don’t forget to lather on sunblock before you put it on as they often have open holes where the sun can reach your skin.

Don’t Forget Your Face and Eyes

A wide-brimmed hat is going to shield your head, face, and neck much better than a ball-cap or short-brimmed hat. And be mindful of your sunglasses – the more coverage, the better – and look for ones that say 100% UV protection.

Observe the Shadow Rule

Keep in mind how the intensity of the sun changes depending on the time of day you are outside and where you are. As the sun rises and more of its rays reach you, your shadow will shorten. The shadow rule says that the shorter your shadow, the more you should seek shade.

Know Your SPF

Your “sun protection factor” is going to vary depending on how quickly your skin experiences sunburn. For someone who burns in 10 minutes, an SPF 15 will not protect as long as someone who burns in 20 minutes. Play it safe by using sunscreen in the SPF 30 to 50 range.

What are your biggest sun protection tips? What do you think about the “reef safe” movement? What kind of sun protection do you use? Please share in the comments below.

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