We're armed with plenty of sun safety dos and don'ts (do reapply often; don't even think about a tanning bed) yet cases of skin cancer are actually on the rise. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, there's been a 300-percent increase in basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas in the United States since 1994, and melanoma rates are steadily increasing, too.
How is this possible? Miami-based dermatologist Alicia Barba, MD, has one theory: People tend to overlook nine areas when applying sunscreen to their faces — corners of the eyes, lower eyelids, tops of ears, upper hairline, creases of the nose, skin under the nostrils, lips, the area between upper lip and nose, and the lips — leaving them vulnerable to cancer-causing rays. "For men and women with thin hair, or no hair, the scalp has to be protected too," Dr. Barba says.
How to Find the Best Year-Round Sunscreen for You
Using sunscreen year round is an absolute must, even on cloudy days, and yes, even during snowpocalypses. "In the winter, the sun's rays are reflected off of snow, which can be damaging to the skin," Barba says, adding that the sun is just as strong and dangerous during the colder months even if it feels less intense because of the drop in temperature.
Barba suggests buying a sunscreen that has broad-spectrum UVB and UVA protection on the label and contains at least one of the following ingredients:
- zinc oxide
- titanium dioxide
When applying sunscreen close to your eyes, look for a non-migrating formula (they're specially designed not to sting) with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. It's fine to use the same sunscreen you use in summer during the colder months, but "because of the low humidity in winter, you may need to layer on a thicker moisturizer to keep the skin from drying," Barba says. Polarized sunglasses and UV clothing are two other great ways to keep skin protected and cancer-free.
How to Reduce Your Skin Cancer Risk Even More
On top of diligently applying sunscreen and seeing your dermatologist at least once a year, Barba recommends performing a full-body skin exam each month. "The best time to do a self skin exam is when you are completely undressed and in front of a mirror, like after a bath or a shower. If you can, train a partner or family member to look at your back and get to know all the spots on your back." During these exams, Barba says people tend to miss areas that don't get much sun — in between the toes, the soles of the feet, the underarms, and genitalia. If you notice a new spot or lesion, keep track of it. "Anything still present after a few months should be looked at," she says.