With the most common form of cancer -- skin cancer -- on the rise, it's hard not to fret about soaking up too much sun this season. But instead of stressing your way through summer, take action to build up your skin-cancer defense, suggests dermatology expert Lily Talakoub, M.D., at the University of California, San Francisco.
For starters, take to the shade as often as possible from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the sun's rays beat down the hardest. Whether it's sunny or cloudy, when you step outside, wear sunblock that offers an SPF of 15 (or higher) and contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
"These ingredients physically block both UVA and UVB rays from penetrating the skin. They provide better protection than chemicals that work by reflecting the sun's rays," says Talakoub.
(Note that for adequate vitamin D levels, many experts recommend letting the rays shine on sunscreen-free arms and legs for 10 to 15 minutes two to three times a week.)
Remember the Basics
Apply lotion 15 minutes before heading outside, and reapply every two hours. To keep your head sun-safe, wear a hat with a 4-inch brim (perfect for giving extra coverage to easily burned ears, face, and neck).
Check your skin once a month for changes or new growths to help guard against skin cancer.
Sip and Sprinkle
Recent research reveals that consuming green tea and curcumin (an anti-inflammatory compound found in the curry spice turmeric) may help combat skin cancer. Packed with potent antioxidants, green tea may also reduce DNA damage to skin cells when applied topically, according to animal studies.
In addition to choosing green-tea-infused sunblocks and lotions, drinking 3 cups of green tea daily and regularly including turmeric in your cooking may provide protection, says integrative physician David Rakel of the University of Wisconsin's School of Medicine and Public Health.
Keep Your Clothes On
Sunblock is a must, but it can't beat sun-protective clothing when it comes to reducing cancer risk, a 2007 study from the Lancet shows. Tightly woven garments in dark or bright colors (rather than white, pale colors, or pastels) are your best bet, says Talakoub.
For even more protection, look for UV-absorbing clothes labeled with the Skin Cancer Foundation's seal of recommendation.
Live for Lip Balm
Protecting your lips is key to preventing skin cancer, yet research shows that fewer than one in four Americans wear sun-protective lip balm. Talakoub recommends using lip balm with an SPF of 15 (or higher) and applying it 15 minutes before going outside.
"It's especially important to reapply lip sunscreens throughout the day, since they're easily wiped off with drinking and eating," she says. If you wear shiny gloss or lipstick, layer it over the protective balm. Some dermatologists suspect that glosses may increase the penetration of harmful UV rays.
Cover Your Bases
Women were more likely to develop melanoma (the most deadly form of skin cancer) on their chests in 2004 than they were in the 1970s, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology last year. So when you're showing a little skin, take care to apply (and reapply) plenty of sunblock to any exposed areas.