When I was in my late 20s, I noticed a white scab on my upper arm that wasn’t going away on its own. I have fair skin and always turn into a lobster quickly in the sun, so I always knew I was at a higher risk for skin cancer. But I figured the small scab was nothing, and didn’t think I needed to get it checked out until a family vacation in Israel.
Swimming in the Dead Sea, my arm burned more than it should have (and trust me, everything burns when you’re swimming in that much salt). The scaly scab turned out to be basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer. Thankfully, all I needed was some outpatient surgery to have it removed.
The experience made me rethink just dealing with the inevitable sunburns that come from fun in the sun. Now I always take precautions when I go outside.
Here are my top tips for how you can keep yourself protected this summer while still enjoying the outdoors.
1. Go for the strong stuff
You can reduce your risk of skin cancer by wearing a strong sunscreen (SPF 50). Also make sure that your sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB.
The summer sun is strong, so your best defense is putting sunscreen on before heading outside. Many facial moisture creams also come with sunscreen in them.
Just remember that sunscreen needs to be reapplied regularly, so take that bottle with you. Better yet, just stash sunscreen everywhere. I personally keep some in my car and by the door so I never head out without it. I also permanently store a travel-sized sunscreen in my suitcase so I don’t need to worry about shopping for some when I’m out of town.
2. Root, root, root for your favorite sports team
You might already use sunscreen in obvious areas like your back and neck. But don’t overlook protecting your head from the sun. While your hair will do a good job of protecting your scalp, it can still burn, especially if your hair is thinning or balding. Use this as an excuse to support your favorite team. Summer is baseball season, after all.
3. Cover up
I know, I know, it’s summer! Covering up isn’t in style. Fortunately, you can stay cool by wearing loose-fitting, lightweight clothing that will keep your arms and legs covered. Now where did I put my linen pants?
4. Walk on the (not so sunny) side of the street
Captain Obvious here to say that you can avoid the sun by not being in the sun. Go out of your way to walk in the shade.
Many parks have covered areas for gatherings perfect for enjoying the nice weather while not being in the direct light. Be sure to scope out restaurants with umbrellas or covered outdoor seating as well.
For other outdoor gatherings, try to BYOU (bring your own umbrella). Look for a pop-up canopy and keep it in your car to create your own shade.
5. Remember, cloudy with a chance of sunburn
While the clouds block some of the sun’s rays and can keep the air cooler, there’s still plenty of ultraviolet light passing through. If you know you’re going to be outside for a long period of time, don’t forget the sunscreen, even if it’s cloudy.
6. Check your medicine cabinet
Many common medications can affect your sensitivity to the sun, causing you to burn faster than you might normally. Be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if your medication increases your photosensitivity risk.
Even if you don’t feel you’re at an increased risk of skin cancer, it’s still important to keep your skin protected. This even holds true on a cloudy day. Have fun this summer!
Dustin Chertoff is the co-founder of Fearless, a company that uses virtual reality to help people overcome their fears. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and Chihuahua, Cesar. Follow him on Twitter@dbchertoff.