Tips for protecting skin, preventing skin cancer


by MIMI JUNG / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @MimiJungKING5

Posted on May 12, 2014 at 8:59 AM

With temperatures expected to soar into the 80's this week, people will be reaching for the sunscreen. But what about when it's cloudy? How many of you wear sunscreen everyday?

If you're like a lot of people who live in Western Washington, you probably skip the sunscreen thinking you don't need it.

Dr. Janie Leonhardt, a dermatologist at Virginia Mason, says she often hears patients say they only use sunscreen when they're in the sun.

"I need to educate them so they understand when you're outside, you're in the radiation, whether it's cloudy or a day full of visible light," Dr. Leonhardt said. On a cloudy day, she says people receive 40 to 80 percent of the sun's radiation.  

Another myth is that it's too late to protect your skin. Dr. Leonhardt says only 23 percent of sun exposure happens before the age of 18, so that means the sun can still do damage if you don't wear sunscreen.

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and Dr. Leonhardt says it's a good reminder for people to get a skin cancer screening if they haven't had one already. She recommends an annual screening after the age of 40. She also suggests doing checks at home.

"The most important thing people should be looking for at home is changes. Knowing something is new and doesn't fit in with everything else, or if you've had a spot for many years and it changes in size, color and shape, that's a reason I tell patients to connect with me,"  Dr. Leonhardt said.

As for sunscreen, they are not all created equal. Dr. Leonhardt says look for "broad spectrum" on the bottle, which covers both Ultraviolet A and B wavelengths. SPF 30 covers about 98 percent of the UVA and UVB rays. But Dr. Leonhardt says the best protection is sunscreen that contains zinc oxide

Bottom line, Dr. Leonhardt says it's never too late to start protecting your skin.  

"You have an opportunity at any age at any time to make a difference," said Dr. Leonhardt.