Don’t Brave the Summer Sun Till You Read This!

Think it’s wimpy to slather on sunscreen, wear hats and avoid the brightest outdoor rays? Then you better be man enough to stare down melanoma, the most common form of cancer for young adults.

Why should you worry about skin cancer? You’re young and fit. Skin cancer -- that’s something that happens to geezers and grandmas, right?

Maybe that explains why so many people your age ignore the risks. Even big-time athletes, who have access to the best medical advice and the most to lose by not taking care of their bodies, rarely take precautions. According to a 2006 study of male and female NCAA athletes, only 8 percent used sunscreen.

Even docs know how young men feel about it. “They don’t heed the warnings,” says Dr. Jeffrey Dover, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University. “You feel infallible at that point in your life,” agrees dermatologist Dr. Kenneth Bielinski, a spokesman for the American Academy of Dermatology. “You tend to throw caution to the wind.”

But the wind’s not the problem, here. It’s the sun. And here’s why you should care: Skin cancer is caused by the cumulative effects of sun exposure. When do you think you get most of that exposure? When you’re 40 and spending five days a week in an office? No, siree. It’s when you’re working and playing and hanging out at the beach, by the lake, in the park.

In other words, you could be frying up a nice case of skin cancer for yourself right now. Oh, and it doesn’t always wait until you’re way into “man-o-pause” to strike, either. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, melanoma -- the deadliest form of skin cancer -- is now the most common form of cancer for young adults 25 to 29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for adolescents and young adults 15 to 29 years old.

You want to look like the young stud you are for the girls on the beach -- and prevent the big C? “In a nutshell, sunscreen and protection are the keys to staying young-looking and avoiding skin cancer,” says Dr. Dover.

Here’s what the good doctors and the American Academy of Dermatology recommend:

Wear a Hat
Your noggin is one of the most susceptible places for skin cancer, especially if you shave your head, or have a buzz cut or thinning hair. Typically, says Dr. Bielinski, “the recommendation is to wear a loose, floppy hat. That may come across as potentially dorky, but if you just put on your typical baseball cap, you’ll get some benefit, and that’s better than none.” And, he adds, nobody has to know why you’re wearing it -- it could be because you really are a Yankees fan.

Wear Sunscreen
Yes, you should seriously lather up. And we’re not talking about single-digit protection. Use water-resistant sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 that provides protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). Reapply every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.

Stay out of the Strongest Sun
Go to the beach at night: It’s more romantic, no one can see what you’re doing and you’re avoiding maximum exposure when the sun’s rays are strongest (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

Eat a Balanced Diet
Our bodies produce the essential vitamin D when we’re exposed to sunlight. A safer way to get vitamin D is through a balanced diet that includes milk (fortified with vitamin D) and vitamin supplements.

Avoid Tanning Beds
Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look like you’ve been in the sun, consider using a sunless self-tanning product.

Suit up
Buy cool clothes with SPF built in: Dr. Brian Adams of the University of Cincinnati cites new performance wear with built-in SPF as one of the more notable developments in skin protection in the last couple of years. “You can wear beach shirts, shorts and outdoor gear with a neck collar that are not hot and keep you protected,” he says. A garment made of fabric with an SPF of 50 blocks 98 percent of UV radiation, according to Coolibar, the Minneapolis-based manufacturer of sun-protective clothing. Other sun-smart outdoor clothes include those by Solartex, UV Skinz and Solumbra.

Remember: If you think you look good with a deep tan, think about how disfiguring a scar from melanoma removal can be (and sometimes, that’s the best-case scenario).

by John Hanc