Vanity about my pale-pink complexion, starting when it was cool to be tan in the late '80s, has led to three painful rounds of topical chemotherapy on my face, which is really not pretty, friends. So let me share some hard-won and perhaps surprising wisdom for your outdoor adventures.
Sun-Smart Tips for Hikers and Skiers
Or really anyone who likes to spend time outside, especially here in Colorado, where elevation means you're even closer to that giant orb that provides a glorious 300 days of intense light a year. You may slap some sunscreen on your nose already, but make sure you also cover these other bits:
Protect your lips. I thought my constantly peeling lips were just a sign of dry skin. Nope. Those are precancerous spots. The skin on your lips is very fragile and thin. But most lip balms don't do anything to protect them from burns and damage. After looking long and hard, I found Aquaphor with SPF 30 online and ordered a jumbo stash to keep in the car, in my hiking daypack, in my purse, in my bathroom...you get the idea. I even use it before I take out the dog, because here in sunny Denver you can burn in less than 10 minutes.
Protect your hands. They're almost as exposed as your lips. And if you have a small streak of vanity like me, you'll want to avoid "age spots" or "liver spots," those dark brown patches that are not a sign of aging at all, but actually sun damage. It's really dry here in semi-arid Colorado, especially in the winter (and yet still sunny), so I use sunscreen like hand lotion all day long. Waterproof is best, so it lasts between several trips to the sink.
Protect your hairline and the part in your hair. People with short hair, people with long hair who wear it parted, people who have fair hair...you're all getting way more sun damage on your head than you might realize. And it's tricky to spot before it can become cancerous, because, well, hair. This round of chemo cream (Fluorouracil, for those who are curious) has spotlighted the spots along my forehead just inside my hairline that are ripe for cancer, thanks to my fair hair and foolish years inside a tanning bed. I've come to love hats. (So much so that we're thinking of adding a line of trucker hats to Local Universe. What do you think?)
Protect the tops of your ears. Unless you're wearing a bucket hat, the trucker hat is just putting your ears further in the line of danger by tucking away any hair that might have hidden them. Rub some zinc-based sunblock over your ears before you set foot outside.
Protect your eyes. Did you know that you can get cancer in your eyes, on your eyelids and inside your eyelids from the sun's rays? Don't Google this, because the photos are kinda gross, quite frankly. Take my word for it and wear wrap-around sunglasses with UV protection.
Protect the tops of your feet. They generally face upward toward the sun, right? So if you slip out of hiking boots or ski boots and into sandals, wear socks or sunscreen. Don't Google this either, but you also can get skin cancer under your toenails.
Finally, don't neglect the bigger parts of you. Many people end up with skin cancer on the backs of their knees, simply because they forget what they can't see. Don't count on clothes to always protect you--light-colored and thin fabrics don't provide much sunblock at all. (Coolibar and other brands make clothes with built-in sun protection.) You likely already know that snow amplifies the sun's rays. And don't forget that they can penetrate clouds...not that we have many clouds here in Colorado.
The health-conscious part of me wishes that I had done a better job of protecting my skin and stayed out of the tanning bed all those years, because the thought of skin cancer is no joke.
The vain part of me wishes that self-tanners had been better 30 years ago, because even my legs show signs of photo-aging, and because topical chemo cream is a nasty little treatment. (Don't Google this, either. Ew!)
So learn from my lessons and save yourself. Stock up on hats, sunglasses, sun-proof clothing and sunscreen for all your parts. Keep it handy. And *use* it every time you get outside to enjoy our great outdoors.