May has been designated as “Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month,” by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
This year it hits close to home for me because last June my husband was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer there is. Fortunately, he was treated early and is now cancer free, but his diagnosis led him to encourage me, and others, to get checked and to always use protection from the sun.
So, why is melanoma such a big deal that it needs it’s own month? The American Academy of Dermatology indicates that not only is skin cancer the most common type of cancer in the United States, but that 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths are from melanoma, which means early detection and treatment are critical.
As my husband requested, I made an appointment and when my dermatologist asked if I am out in the sun a lot, I said, “well, not really, I just garden.” He said, “the sun doesn’t know if you are out lying in the sun or ‘just gardening’ so make sure to protect yourself.” While I did not have any cancerous spots, he did remove a few to make sure, and is watching a spot on my upper lip.
As gardeners, we worry so much about our plants, we baby them, and even protect them from sunburn but we don’t always do the same for ourselves. But, we need to. Fortunately, there are natural, common sense ways to protect your skin.
To start with, think about the time of day you are out in the sun. If possible, try to limit the amount of time you spend out in the sun and stay out of the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are strongest. Early in the morning and in the evening are also better times to garden.
For example, watering in the morning is actually the best time to water because you will avoid waste from evaporation and from wind. And since the temperatures will be cooler for working during these hours, when transplanting or fertilizing, the cooler temperatures will help avoid “stressing” your plants.
Other ways to protect your skin include wearing a wide-brimmed hat, or even better, a specially designed sun protection hat with a UPF rating (ultraviolet protection factor) to indicate how much of the sun’s rays the fabric absorbs.
Also wear long sleeved, light clothing and clothing with SPF (sun protection factor) or UPF, which also absorbs some of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Most protective clothing is designed for outdoor or active use and is actually some of the most comfortable clothing around with good ventilation and ease of mobility.
Even with all of these protections, you still need to use sunscreen. Because conventional sunscreens can contain harmful chemicals, choose an organic or natural sunscreen instead. Natural sunscreens have a more limited shelf life than conventional ones so make sure you use them right away. You can find organic sunscreens at your local health or natural foods market.
Use a sunscreen with an SPF number of 15 or higher and reapply it every two hours. And, don’t forget to wear sunglasses and to protect your lips as well. There are some great, natural lip products on the market with SPF ratings from 15 on up.
While many argue that you need to bask in the sun for its vitamin D benefits, according to the AAD, the only real safe way to get it is through a healthy diet and vitamin supplements because it provides the benefit without the skin cancer risk.