Christian Wheatley/Getty Images
You're a sun-loving kind of gal. You live for lounging by the pool, laying out at the beach, and soaking in some rays. You love the way sand feels between your toes and the windblown waves in your hair. But mostly, the glow that comes with the endless days of basking. Everyone looks better with a tan, no?
But just because you prefer to be bronzed, doesn't mean you are immune to the harm caused by the sun's UV rays. We're not talking pre-mature aging and wrinkles (though we're sure you want to keep those at bay), we're talking skin cancer. It is the most common cancer in the United States, with over two million people diagnosed annually. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer sometime in the course of a lifetime. So what's a sun-seeker to do?
You don't have to hide indoors—the key to preventing skin cancer is not getting burned, and the key to not getting burned is wearing sunscreen. Your skin darkens as a reaction to being injured, explains cosmetic dermatologist and cancer surgeon Dr. Kenneth Mark. So any tan is a sign of damage to the skin (sorry ladies!), but while we know you're not going to embrace your pastey winter skin, it is futile that you don't come home from the beach looking like a lobster.
First, you must use a broad spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen SPF 30 or higher on your face and body every day—especially if you are going to be in direct sunlight. Second, you must rid yourself of the misnomer that you cannot get tan if you wear sunscreen. It will happen, just more slowly, and most importantly, more safely. Lastly, you must reapply sunscreen every two to three hours or after swimming, whichever comes first.
"Don't forget odd areas like the top of your head and under your bathing suit," says skin cancer expert Dr. Justin Piasecki. "I see skin cancer regularly in hair bearing scalp and behind the ears. There are several sprays and powdered sun protection products out there that are easier to apply to the hair bearing head without making a complete mess of your hairstyle."
When picking out a sunscreen look for one that has a zinc oxide or titanium dioxide base. Chemical-based sunscreens may only block UVA or UVB rays, while these protect against the whole UV spectrum. But the most important thing about selecting a sunscreen is choosing one you will actually use. Luckily these "Broad Spectrum" choices are now available in lotions that actually rub in without leaving that white film that used to mean it was a "good" sunscreen.
Beyond sunscreen, your clothing choices affect your risk of skin cancer. If you're a girl who loves to look tan, chances are you're a girl who loves fashion. Well, it's time to invest in some stylish beachwear—obviously, the more skin you have covered the less sun damage. Try a chic floppy hat, a flowing print caftan, and 100 percent SFP oversized shades when the sun is at its peak hours from 10 am to 4 pm. Scared this will hinder getting your tan on? It's time to give in, and hit the bottle. Nothing is wrong with a faux glow, just as long as it's not from a tanning bed. Don't worry, with the newest formulas on the market, the days of unnatural looking orange streaks are a thing of the past.
On your way to the drugstore, we suggest stopping by your local coffee shop for an iced cappuccino. According to plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Greg Wiener M.D. FACS, coffee has been linked to decreasing chances of skin cancer by 10 percent. He also suggests eating broccoli, red peppers and papaya. They are high in Vitamin C, which plays a large role in the synthesis of collagen and skin firming benefits. "Omega 3s help with fighting off free radicals as well—try salmon, sardines, tuna, and trout," he suggests. "Another great food are tomatoes, which have lycopene that helps exposed skin from getting sunburned."
Adopting these practices into your sun-seeker lifestyle may seem to directly conflict with your tan girl mantra. But as it is with anything we love, it is all about moderation. "It's okay to play outside and enjoy life, just use common sense, and big picture thinking," says Dr. Piasecki. "Be practical and safe doing it—think ahead, wear sunscreen, and be ready to reapply it. If you do that, you'll be happy and healthy."