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Rethinking Your Sun Protection Year Round

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Elde/Getty Images,

by Sarah Mahoney

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With the rates of melanoma continuing to rise, researchers and public health experts are urging people to rethink their sun protection strategy, and to make this strategy a year-long commitment, not just in the summer when you hit the beach.

First off, know that sunscreen is safe to use, despite rampant speculation on the internet about harmful ingredients in some formulations. The American Academy of Dermatology recently issued a statement affirming the safety of sunscreen and its efficacy in fighting skin cancer. “Sunscreen remains a safe, effective form of sun protection…Current scientific data does not support claims that sunscreen ingredients are toxic or a hazard to human health. Rather, evidence supports the benefits of applying sunscreen to minimize short- and long-term damage to the skin from UV radiation.”

A growing body of research indicates that because people feel protected by sunscreen, they may stay in the sun too long.

American Academy of Dermatology

Still, sunscreen is just one component of a daily strategy. And a growing body of research indicates that because people feel protected by sunscreen, they may stay in the sun too long, and as a result, burn. More than 2 million Americans are developing skin cancer each year, and the National Cancer Institute estimates that between 40 to 50 percent of people in the U.S. who live to the age of 65 will get one of these tumors at least once. Last year, some 9,700 Americans died from melanoma, the most deadly form.

Experts say it’s always a good time to re-calibrate your sun safety, whether you’re just catching intermittent rays on your walk to work, a die-hard gardener, or heading off for a Caribbean vacation:

Use sunscreen, but not as a tool to prolong your time in the sun. The AAD recommends water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen that protect against both types of ultraviolet radiation, UVA and UVB, with an SPF 30 or higher. And despite the AAD’s claims, another organization, the Environmental Working Group, points out that retinyl palmitate, a type of vitamin A used widely in products, has been linked to skin cancer in FDA-sponsored laboratory studies.

Take cover. Shirts, hats, and sunglasses provide the best protection. And while UPF (Ultraviolet Protective Factor) clothing is effective, do your homework. Weave, color, weight stretchiness and whether it’s worn while wet can all have an impact on the fabric’s efficacy.

Get screened for Vitamin D deficiency. While all the data is not yet in, there are indications that adequate levels of vitamin D may reduce the risk of melanoma.

Know your skin. Go over your skin regularly for new moles that are tender, growing or bleeding. Ask your doctor how often you should see a dermatologist for screening