May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month and a busy time for gardening and other outdoor activities. Gardening provides many benefits, but like any outdoor activity, it’s important to protect yourself from the sun’s damaging rays.
More than five million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year, and most are associated with exposure to the ultraviolet rays from the sun. And even though it’s the most common form of cancer in the U.S., it is also one of the most preventable. Help reduce this percentage and keep yourself and others safe with a bit of skin cancer prevention.
Use sunscreen year-round. It is easy to overlook during those extremely cold or hot months where we may be bundled up or spending minimal time outdoors. In fact, running errands and even time spent in the car results in sun exposure.
Apply a sunscreen with UVA/UVB protection and a minimum SPF of 30 over your entire body at least 30 minutes before going outdoors. This includes cloudy days when we often forego this precaution. Reapply sunscreen every two hours or after swimming or excessive sweating. Pay close attention and make a generous application to lips, tips of ears, and the backs of your neck and hands.
Keep a bottle of sunscreen in your garden tool kit as a reminder to apply throughout the day. If it’s easily accessible, you are more likely to apply it as needed.
Avoid gardening and outdoor activities when the sun is most intense. This is usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Find those shady spots in the landscape to weed or relax during that time. Avoiding the intense sunlight means cooler temperatures that make working in the garden more enjoyable.
Cover up for greater protection. Wear a broad brimmed hat to protect your ears, scalp, neck and face from the sun. Don clothing of tightly woven fabric that helps block harmful UV rays. And talk to your dermatologist about the benefits of investing in photoprotective clothing.
Be sure to include gloves when purchasing sun protective clothing. Look for knit gloves like Foxgloves that provide 50+ UPF, Ultraviolet Protection Factor. These gloves are made of lightweight, breathable fabric and come in a variety of colors, including skin tone, making them easy to wear when working, driving or participating in any outdoor activity.
And don’t forget about your eyes. Wear sunglasses and a broad brimmed hat to protect your eyes when gardening, relaxing or recreating outdoors.
Check your skin regularly for any suspicious moles, spots, growths and changes. And visit your dermatologist at least once a year. They can help you detect and manage problems early.
As you work to improve your landscape or do other outdoor activities this season, add sun protection to your to-do list. Then encourage your family and friends to do the same. A bit of prevention can reduce your risk of becoming that one individual in five that develops skin cancer by the age of 70.
Melinda Myers has written numerous books, including "Small Space Gardening." She hosts The Great Courses "How to Grow Anything" DVD series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’