Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Boston

Be Sun Wise

More than 3.5 million skin cancers in over two million people are diagnosed annually with skin cancer, making it the most common of all cancers, with medical costs to treat skin cancer reportedly estimated at almost $2 billion annually. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that more people are diagnosed with skin cancer than with breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer combined. About one in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime, with melanoma the second most common form of cancer for adolescents and young adults, 15 to 29 years old.

A survey found that 43 percent of white adults in Massachusetts had at least one sunburn in the past year—an increase from 35 percent in 1999. Sunburns are a significant risk factor for the development of skin cancer. The rate of new melanoma diagnoses—responsible for 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths—was 26 percent higher in Massachusetts than the national average and was the 9th highest in the U.S. from 2001 to 2005. An estimated 2,000 state residents were diagnosed with melanoma in 2012, and more than 200 people in Massachusetts die of melanoma every year.

While some sunlight can be enjoyable, too much can be dangerous. By following some simple steps, time in the sun can be enjoyed without overexposure to its harmful rays. The EPA recommends these action steps:

• Do Not Burn Sunburns significantly increase one’s lifetime risk of developing skin cancer, especially for children.

• Avoid Sun Tanning and Tanning Beds UV light from tanning beds and the sun causes skin cancer and wrinkling.

• Generously Apply Sunscreen Use about one ounce to cover all exposed skin 20 minutes before going outside. Sunscreen should have a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 and provide protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Reapply every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.

• Choose a Sunscreen that is Healthy and Protects the Planet Some sunscreens contain chemicals that can be harmful to humans and to fish when they wash off in rivers and oceans. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends against using sunscreen and cosmetics whose labels disclose the presence of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate or retinol, which has been shown to hasten the development of skin tumors and lesions on sun-exposed skin. Another to avoid is oxybenzone, a known hormone disruptor. Use EWG’s 2014 Guide to Sunscreens for help choosing a healthy sunscreen. (

• Wear Protective Clothing Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a widebrimmed hat, and sunglasses, when possible.

• Seek Shade Seek shade when possible and remember that the sun’s UV rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

• Get Vitamin D Safely Get Vitamin D safely through a diet that includes vitamin supplements and foods fortified with Vitamin D. Don’t seek the sun.

For more information, visit