10 key ways skin cancer survivors protect themselves from the sun

Photo: Getty Images
Skin cancer survivors use multiple ways to protect their skin from the sun, including physical protection such as wide brimmed hats. (Photo: Getty Images)

You already know the importance of protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful rays, and you probably do your best. But skin cancer survivors know just how important it is to have excellent sun protection every single time you step outside.

“I work hard to be careful,” Julie Barthels, a licensed clinical social worker, who has had basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I had never been so cautious about the sun before the skin cancer scare.”

Suzanne Carey-Fernandez, who had a melanoma removed from her calf, agrees. “I am much more careful if I know I'll be outside for a while,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

Many skin cancer survivors insist that safe sun practices are a constant thing people should be concerned about. Here’s what they do to stay safe — and why it matters.

Wear a sunscreen you’ll actually use.

It’s easy enough to buy sunscreen, but you need to actually apply it to reap the benefits. That’s why Carey-Fernandez opts for one she knows she’ll use. “I make sure to cover any exposed skin with a UVA, UVB and 45 SPF or more,” she says. Carey-Fernandez likes to use Neutrogena Ultra-Sheer Dry Touch sunscreen. “It goes on and doesn't feel heavy,” she says. “It’s waterproof too.”

Wear a big hat daily.

Jan Campen Leon Nickel tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she was “shocked” when her dermatologist told her that a brown spot on her nose was melanoma. Since then, she’s had “several” other cancerous spots removed. She’s now diligent about wearing a hat when she’s outside and tends to opt for a straw hat that she bought from Target. “I prefer it over the others because it’s not one that feels really hot, and it won’t blow off my head,” Nickel says.

Carey-Fernandez also says she regularly wears “crazy big hats,” adding, “I'd rather have someone laugh at the hat and explain how important it is to keep our skin safe than risk any more bad news at the dermatologist.”

Pay attention to how long you’ve been in the sun.

Before she had skin cancer, Carey-Fernandez says she “could never figure out how long the sunscreen would last.” Now, she pays attention to the amount of time she’s in the sun. “I was nervous on our last trip when we were out on a boat most of the day, but being careful to reapply and look for shade, I didn't burn,” she says. “Knowing what to do now, I hope I will feel more confident about staying protected in the future since we enjoy being active and outside.”

Put on sunscreen, even when it’s cloudy.

It’s easy to assume that you don’t need sunscreen when it’s not sunny, but that’s a misconception. “I always wear sunscreen…even if it’s cloudy,” Nickel says. She tends to reach for Elta MD SPF 46 and PCA Skin SPF 45.

Seek out shade — or make your own.

This is a big one with skin cancer survivors. Barthels says she’s created shade in her yard where it previously didn’t exist to protect herself. “I enjoy swimming and have installed a sun shade over part of our pool to protect me,” she says.

Candace Sprick, who has had multiple skin cancers over the last two decades, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she’s “very aware” of the sun and its rays. “I do my best to find shade when possible, even so much as to cross over and walk the other side of the street if it's shadier,” she says.

Try to do outdoor activities outside of peak sun hours.

Trying to stay out of the sun — especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are the strongest, according to the American Cancer Society — is one of the best ways to protect yourself. Barthels prefers to wait to do outdoor activities, such as gardening and bike riding, where there often isn’t any shade until the sun goes down.

Use beauty products with sunscreen.

Every bit of protection helps. That’s why Barthels says she wears Mary Kay moisturizer with sunscreen on her face daily. “I then add SPF 70 when I know I’m going to be out for more than 15 minutes,” she says.

Hollis Heavenrich-Jones, who has a scar that runs from her nose to her lip due to basal cell carcinoma, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she wears a moisturizer with SPF and foundation with sunscreen for an added boost. (She likes It Cosmetics’ CC+ cream with SPF 50.) “I wear it every day,” she adds.

Leigh Anne O'Connor, who had to have reconstructive surgery on her nose as a result of an aggressive basal cell carcinoma, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she uses Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Moisturizer with SPF 30 daily.

Make sure your sunglasses offer UV protection.

Becky Mckeown, who had a squamous cell carcinoma on her back, is big on this one. She tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she looks for “anything with UV protection” when it comes to choosing pair of sunglasses. “No need for expensive glasses since I lose so many pairs,” she says. Just make sure the tag on your glasses specifies that they protect against UV rays.

Wear long-sleeve shirts in the sun.

This can be tricky when it’s hot out, but O’Connor says she regularly wears long-sleeved linen shirts by J.Jill, Garnet Hill, and J.Crew for protection and to stay cool. “I put sunscreen on my chest when the weather is too warm to wear scarves and jackets,” she adds.

Opt for sun protecting clothing.

A three-time melanoma survivor, Richard O. Williams, PhD, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that he “rarely” wears short sleeves or shorts. Instead, he prefers to wear safari shirts from Columbia and Mountain Hardware with a high collar that have an SPF 30 or greater. “They are truly warm weather shirts with long sleeves,” he says.

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