As spring wraps up and we head into summer, women, men and children all across the country are ditching all of those winter layers for shorts and bathing suits. Instead of spending time in the occasional grey skies and lower temperatures, the majority of us are planning on spending a great deal of our time outdoors.

Time spent in the sun is generally good for you – vitamin D from the sun’s rays is well-needed after a long winter and just ten minutes of time in the sun each day is a known mood booster. However, as many of us are becoming increasing aware, time spent in the sun without the protection of sunscreen and clothing poses a major risk for skin health in the long-term.

Over 9,000 people in the U.S. each year die from Melanoma, and over 76,000 people are diagnosed with the disease annually. The good news is that melanoma is considered treatable when discovered early. If not diagnosed in the early stages of the disease, then it becomes more and more difficult to cure as it can easily spread to other parts of the body. As the most severe type of skin cancer, risk of developing melanoma needs to be taken very seriously. Those with fair skin, a history of sunburn, a family history of melanoma, living close to the equator or at a high elevation, if you have a large number of moles, and/or a weak immune system are all risk factors.

But what causes melanoma exactly? Just because you have fair skin and are easily sunburned does not mean you will develop melanoma, but the disease forms when skin cells are damaged from either genetic or environmental factors – i.e. a family history or frequent sun exposure without protection. Under normal, healthy conditions your skin cells develop when new cells push older cells up toward the surface of your skin. The old cells will die and fall off naturally – this is normal. However, when skin cells are damaged the new cells can form into cancerous cells and lead to melanoma.

Preventing melanoma is simple. It only requires that we are aware of the risk we are taking if we don’t protect our skin – starting today.

  • Sunlight is at its most prominent between 10am and 4pm most days. Be aware of how much exposure you have to the sun on a daily basis.
  • Avoid sunburn by using a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 if not higher. Broad spectrum protects against UVA and UVB rays.
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours and be aware that not all sunscreens last through time spent swimming or sweating.
  • Cover your skin when you can – wear light layers and a hat to protect the skin on your scalp, face, and upper neck.
  • Be aware of any new moles or marks that form on your skin and seek the opinion of your doctor for a professional exam.