When you consider some of the most prevalent cancers, you may naturally fear breast or lung cancer. But did you know that every year, more new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed than all new breast, lung, colon and prostate cancers combined?

Every hour, someone in the US dies of skin cancer; and 1 in 5 people will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime. Ironically, skin cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, say experts at the Environmental Protection Agency. Every year in the US, 29,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed in women. The deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma kills an estimated 3,000 women in the US annually.

Ultraviolet rays damage skin

Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun are an invisible form of radiation. If left unprotected, these rays penetrate your skin, damaging your skin cells. Sunburns are skin damage, and despite their popularity, suntans aren’t healthy. And skin damage doesn’t just happen in summer; UV rays are present during all seasons, in all temperatures and even on cloudy, overcast days, causing long term effects in your eyes, wrinkles and spots on your skin, and cancer.

Sunscreens protect skin

“Popular sunscreens protect us from the damaging effects of UV light in four ways—by reflecting UV, absorbing UV, decreasing UV and decreasing antioxidant damage created by UV,” said dermatologist Zoe D. Draelos, MD, FAAD, consulting professor at Duke University School of Medicine.

Newborns up to 6 months of age shouldn’t wear sunscreen; opt instead for protective hats, sunglasses and clothes, say experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics, who also say it’s best to keep newborns out of direct sunlight. From age 6 months on, begin with an SPF of 15. If not, choose lowest SPF available and apply sparingly. Find shade under a tree, umbrella, or use the stroller canopy to add additional protection.

Best sun protection

To protect yourself and your family, experts at the CDC and the Skin Cancer Foundation advise:

    • Stay out of the sun when it’s strongest: between 10am and 4pm
    • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays with an SPF of 15 or higher
    • Wear protective clothing and wraparound sunglasses that provide 100 percent UV ray protection; look for glasses for babies and toddlers that wrap as well
    • Choose a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15
    • Apply sunscreen to children’s skin, as long as they are at least 6 months old; children younger than 6 months shouldn’t be exposed to the sun
    • Apply generously; use at least 1 ounce or more on teens and adults
    • Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure, and reapply every two hours
    • Reapply sunscreen after swimming, sweating or towel drying
    • Skip SPFs higher than 50; for most people SPF 30 is adequate

The Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) promotes the health of women and newborns.

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