Be sun smart
You know the drill–don’t venture outdoors without a slathering of sunscreen. Still, there are a few key areas of your skin you might be leaving vulnerable to the sun’s harmful rays. Each year in the U.S., nearly 5 million people are treated for skin cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Not to mention, about 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Yikes! Don’t become a statistic. Beyond the usual spots, pay attention to these easy-to-miss places on the body you need to remember when applying sunscreen.
1. Your scalp
Wide-brimmed hats and baseball caps can easily set sail on a strong summer’s breeze, so make sure that your scalp is protected with sunscreen along the hairline and parting. “People who have their hair parted always miss that spot,” says dermatologist Julia Carroll, MD. “And guys who are losing their hair and thinning on top, they need sunscreen there too.” Carroll understands that people might be hesitant to apply a greasy sunscreen in their hair, so she suggests using a spray sunscreen instead. Sprays penetrate through the hair and don’t usually leave an oily residue.
2. Your lips
We tend to steer clear of the lips when applying sunscreen, but they shouldn’t go bare. “There are great stick products that have a waxy base that will stick to tricky areas like the lip,” Dr. Carroll says. Sun protection for the lips is extremely important because once sun damage has occurred, this area has an increased risk of developing into an aggressive form of squamous cell carcinoma.
3. The backs of your knees
Sunburn in this area can be incredibly dangerous. “The most common place for melanoma on a woman is the back of the legs,” Dr. Carroll says. Be sure to slather a generous amount on the entire leg, front and back. To avoid confusion about how much sunscreen to apply to your body, Dr. Carroll says to visualize a shot glass or a golf ball–this amount should be sufficient to cover your entire body.
4. The sides of your face
You coat your nose, chin, and forehead with UV protection, but often you’re not as diligent with the outer reaches of your face. “People don’t want to get sunscreen in their hair, so they don’t push it to the edge of their face,” Dr. Carroll says. She recommends using a broad spectrum product for your face and body that covers both UVA and UVB rays. “It should be at least an SPF 30,” she adds.
5. Your ears
“People totally forget their ears,” Dr. Carroll says. “A woman who has long hair applies sunscreen and thinks that she’s covered, but she doesn’t realize that she might tuck her hair behind her ear, or later she’ll be playing sports with a ball cap on. That’s why we see more skin cancers on the top of the ear.” When you’re putting sunscreen on your face, give some attention to your ears, too. Like the lips, the ears can be prime targets for aggressive squamous cell carcinoma.
6. Your feet
Enjoying summer in your sandals, flip flops, and bare feet? Then continue sunscreen application past the ankles; cover the whole foot (including the sole), each toe, and under the nails–malignant melanoma can be diagnosed on the soles of the feet as well as under the toenails. “The easiest way to do this–when you jump out of the shower, cover your body with sunscreen from head to toe. Treat it like you’re moisturizing yourself and then you’re not playing a guessing game,” Dr. Carroll says.
7. Your eyelids
Carroll says that dermatologists don’t commonly see skin cancers on the eyelids, but it’s still a good idea to protect this area with sunscreen in addition to wearing sunglasses and hats. “The problem with the eyelids is that chemical sunscreens can be irritating to the eyes. Around the eye area, I use stick-type sunscreens. Their waxy component doesn’t slide into the eyes if you sweat,” Dr. Carroll says. She suggests choosing sunglasses with broad arms to provide additional protection for the sides of your eyes.
8. Your underarms
Like the backs of the knees, the underarm area and its adjacent skin tucked along the chest is often left exposed. “That’s an area that I see all the time that’s been missed, and it’s bright red,” Dr. Carroll says. “You need to put sunscreen around your bathing suit or tank top straps because they can move [and leave skin unprotected].”
9. Your hands
Hands are often the first location where aging becomes visually apparent, and UV exposure is typically to blame. “Whatever you’re doing to prevent aging on your face– and sunscreen is a part of that–do the same thing for your hands,” Dr. Carroll says. Always cover the skin on the palms and backs of your hands with sunscreen, and remember to reapply it through the day. Hand washing will remove the product’s protective qualities, leaving your hands exposed to sun damage and possibly melanoma or squamous cell carcinoma.