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Saving Yourself From The Sun By Siren Williams

The seasons are turning and the weather is warmer-- SUMMER IS ALMOST HERE! For many of us around this big, beautiful globe, we’re thinking about picnic’ing by the beach, surfing, or going for more outdoor runs. Whatever your sun-loving activity, there is risk involved with that giant ball of fire in the sky. The threat is real! Not only can you pick up nasty skin cancer, but you’re also at a high risk of premature aging and sun damage. Many middle-aged surfers experience these at an early age and can attest that there is good reason to protect your skin this summer. The sun is strongest between 10am and 4pm in most places, so if you’re having that beach walk at sunrise, you should still wear a hat and cover your skin, but in the heat of the day you’ll want to go with a stronger approach.


The sun projects three types of UV rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC. They’re all damaging, but they all act differently. The UVA rays will cause aging, which includes wrinkles and sun spots, where UVB rays are more surface-based and cause sunburns. Both types are responsible for skin cancer, but you might think of UVA as being more ‘below-the-surface’. UVA rays account for 95% of radiation to reach the Earth and it’s the UV rays that we use in tanning beds. Luckily, UVC is absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere so it isn’t really a threat for skin cancer, but it is found in some man-made tools like mercury lamps and welding torches, so if you’re using these types of tools you’ll want to cover yourself. 


Skin cancer is the single most common type of cancer, and one person dies from skin cancer EVERY HOUR in the United States alone (as of 2013, and the numbers are growing rapidly every year). One in three Caucasian people will be diagnosed with some type of skin cancer within their life, and the risk of getting skin cancer is greater for light-skinned people who burn easily. Oh, you have a deeper complexion? You tan easily? Then you should know that while African Americans, Asians and Latinos do have a lower risk of getting skin cancer, it is actually the most deadly within these ethnicities. 


There are several types of skin cancer and it’s important to know what they look like and to get checked regularly by a dermatologist if you’re in the sun often. I encourage every beach-goer to hop online and Google images of different types of skin cancer to familiarize yourself. You might just save someone else’s life. Maybe even your own. I’ll outline a few of the most common types of skin cancers.
Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer and can look flesh-colored, or like a pinkish patch of skin or a pearl-like bump. It’s important to catch this one quickly as it can grow into bone and nerves.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer and can take several forms. It may look like a red bump, a scaly patch, or even a sore that heals and re-opens. It can also spread to other area of the body, so if you’re experiencing any unusual spots on your skin, it’s important to get to a dermatologist right away for confirmation. 
Actinic Keratoses is a threat for people over the age of 40, and generally looks like a dry, scaly patch. It is possible to get it at a younger age, though, so always get checked.
types of skin cancer
Melanoma may not be the most common, but it is definitely the most deadly. It can look like a new mole or dark spot and can easily be overlooked, especially by people who frequently get new moles. Every new mole should be checked because early diagnosis is crucial with melanoma. For this particular type of skin cancer, learn your “ABCDE’s”:
  • Asymmetry: it’s not symmetrical.
  • Border: scalloped or undefined border.
  • Color: color varies from one part to another with shades of black, brown, red, blue and/or tan.
  • Diameter: usually larger than a pencil eraser when diagnosed, but the sooner you catch it, the better.
  • Evolving: it may start as a small dot and grow larger or change in shape. (Photo from AAD.org)


It is especially important to protect our children as getting just one gnarly sunburn as a kid doubles the risk of getting melanoma later in life. Newborns shouldn’t be in the sun, but babies over six months can wear sunscreen that is specifically formulated for babies. For everyone else, there are many other great ways to protect yourself. 
Hats are great, but a wide brim hat is going to provide more shade coverage for the face and can even help with covering parts of the shoulders. Many fishermen wear “buffs” that cover the entire neck and lower half of the face. There are many great options for breathable outdoor clothing. There are nice, loose button-ups with air flow in various places–try companies like Colombia and Orvis–or you can pick up UV 50+ sun shirts and clothing from a variety of companies (try Mott50, Pelagic, or Reel Skipper to get an idea). Sunglasses are great for protecting your eyes, which is a topic in itself. 
 While surfing, it’s best not to rub sunscreen all over your body because you’ll slip and slide around all over the board, and many avid surfers cringe at the idea of wearing a rash guard (although for newbies, I highly recommend it as it protects you from the sun AND board rash), but surf fashion has become a big thing in recent years, particularly for women. There are plenty of companies making long-sleeved surf suits that will protect you from the sun, wind, rash and will act just like a one-piece swimsuit. Some of my favorites are Seea, Adalu, or SlipIn’s Surf Skins. But then again, surfing in a t-shirt has never been more stylish. 
You do want to wear some sunscreen while surfing, though. You can cover the arms, shoulders, back, chest, neck and face, just avoid the front torso, tops of thighs, back of thighs and the bum. These are the areas that will be in contact with the board most often and will cause the board to become slippery. Many sunscreens aren’t designed for use on the face while in the water and can get in the eyes and cause burning. Stick with something specifically designed for water sports, for the face. I recommend SunBum’s Signature High Performance Zinc Sunscreen.
Aside of wearing the proper clothing, be sure to pack an umbrella for the beach or outings and make sure that you can create or find shade wherever you’re going. 


With a minimum of SPF 30 broad-spectrum sunscreen, you can protect yourself from up to 97% of the suns rays. There are chemical sunscreens and physical sunscreens, so learn the difference. Chemical sunscreens contain PABA and cinnamates and absorb the suns rays, turning the radiation into heat energy, while physical sunscreens (sometimes called mineral sunscreens) like zinc oxide deflect the rays before they hit the skin. Both are effective and safe for the skin, but small children and people with sensitive skin will likely find that the zinc-based sunscreens can cause less irritation. Try SunBum’s new Mineral line! 



It’s not always enough just to protect our skin and our little tiny tots. We want to protect our planet, our oceans, and our reefs too. Most sunscreens are actually quite damaging to reefs and for that reason, they’ve been banned in some areas of the world. “Coral Safe” or “Reef Safe” sunscreens don’t contain oxybenzone, which is extremely dangerous to coral and damages its DNA, inhibiting its ability to reproduce. At least 80% of coral reefs in the Caribbean have already been lost, and it is believed that sunscreen is a contributing factor. But it’s not just the oxybenzone on our hit list. There are eight different chemicals that should be avoided: Oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, PABA, enzacamene, octisalate, homosalate, and avobenzone. Luckily, there are companies out there that have created natural and ‘reef safe’ sunscreens. (Try SunBum, Manda, Badger, All Good, and many others) Please use them! And remember, “Get in the ocean, put your mind into motion. Step into the sun, but don’t forget the lotion.”