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A woman applies sun screen to her arm as she sits on the ground

Office Visit: Shining Some Light on Skin Protection

By Todd Hoffman, M.D. 

With summertime around the corner, your plans may include more outdoor time. Between rediscovering your green thumb, enjoying sports and activities or lounging by the pool, there are countless ways to reconnect with nature when the thermometer rises.

But as you begin your summer adventures, remember to protect the largest organ in your body — your skin. May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and the perfect opportunity to educate, or reeducate, yourself about skin cancer dangers.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Approximately 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Overexposure to ultraviolet rays causes most cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Unprotected skin can be damaged by the sun’s UV rays in as little as 15 minutes. Protecting your skin from the sun and avoiding indoor tanning are ways to lower your skin cancer risk.

Other tips to remember when you’re outdoors include:

  • Try avoiding direct sunlight exposure for long periods late morning through mid-afternoon. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the sun’s rays are strongest 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Portrait of Dr. Todd Hoffman, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma medical officer

Todd Hoffman, M.D.

  • Wear a wide brim hat that shades your face, head, ears and neck.
  • Wear a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt and pants to protect as much of your exposed skin as you can.
  • Wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays to help limit exposure around your eyes.
  • Apply sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher and both UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) protection 20 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours you are outside.

It’s important to use sunscreen anytime you’re going to be outside a significant amount of time. Sunburns can occur on overcast days, too. Skin damage is determined by UV rays, not temperature.

Being proactive is always important for optimal health, including skin care. The most common signs of skin cancer are changes to your skin, like a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal or a change in a mole. If you notice any of these signs or have other skin concerns, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider immediately.

Don’t forget to protect your skin while enjoying your outdoor adventures this summer.

Let’s make it a good month.

Todd Hoffman, M.D., C.P.E., is chief medical officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma, a division of Health Care Service Corp., a Mutual Legal Reserve Company.

A Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association