* Photo credit: Allan Torres
Before I was diagnosed with stage I melanoma at 31, I was pretty careful in the sun. By no means did I ever “lay out” or “work on my tan.” I used a tanning bed a total of three times in college (after caving to pressure by my roommates), and have worn long-sleeve UPF 50 shirts practically every day since moving to Florida eight years ago. Lesson learned: even if you’re sun-safe, wear sun protective clothing, and douse yourself in chemical-free sunscreen, time, chance, and genetics happen to us all.
Nearly one year after a wide excision left a permanent 5-inch long x 1-inch wide scar on my back, I am more safe in the sun than ever. Here are some tips for making sun protection effortless, no matter how busy or active your life.
- Stash sunblock everywhere. Most people do not carry three kinds of sunblock in their purse like I do. So, where can you keep it as a reminder to use it? Put a stick in your handbag or business tote, a few kinds in the door of each car, and another in your gym bag. I keep a stick in the bento box on my bike and can apply it to my face while on the move. If it’s easily accessible, you’re much more likely to use it than if you have to hunt for it or remember to transfer it from one bag to another. I’m a huge fan of anything that’s zinc-oxide based (aka mineral screen), and steer clear of chemicals like oxybenzone.
- Find a wide-brim, packable hat in a neutral color. If you only wear trucker hats, you will need to reapply sunscreen often to your ears and the back of your neck. My favorite hat for daily activity is the Wallaroo Victoria Diva because it has a generous 4.5” brim and withstands being shuffled around and constantly crushed. In all honesty, I still struggle to find a full coverage hat I like for running and racing long distances and have been spotted wearing a fishing hat with neck flap. I’ve tested all different kinds and find there is zero impact on my pace, short of a very windy day.
- Give cooling sleeves a try. I often choose sleeves over copious amounts of sunblock, especially if I’m going to be outside for a long while. You only have to apply them once, and they’re typically more protection overall. I like wearing T-shirts indoors, and I dislike constantly changing from short to long sleeves all throughout the day. Cooling sleeves are the perfect solution! Contrary to popular belief, no, they are not hot. Ask Eliud Kipchoge, who smashed the world marathon record while wearing them. Fabric has come a long way since your Mom made you wear that cotton shirt at the beach.
- Keep a basic, long sleeve top in your car or day bag. If you’re wearing a sleeveless top or tee and you find yourself outdoors, you can easily slip on a button up, tie a cute knot in the front, and still have coverage for your back, arms and chest. I keep a white UPF 50 top on hand at all times, so I match regardless of which Tri Sirena kit or leggings I’m wearing that day.
- Choose gear with more coverage, period. From long-sleeved bathing suits to sleeved kits, you can save yourself a lot of time, sunburns, and skin damage just in the purchase decisions you make. I only wear tri shorts indoors and to race; the rest of the time, it’s Sapphire Summer leggings. The same goes for all your accessories. Fellow Luminary, Mallory turned me on to the Kask Bambino Pro aero helmet because it fully covers the ears. Since my diagnosis, I have forced skin checks on two friends — with no prior history — who found melanoma in-situ on, you guessed it, their ears.
- Use skin products with chemical-free SPF. This one needs a few caveats because there are more than a few lotions, foundations and makeup products that have SPF, but not the good kind. Learn more about different kinds of sunscreen here. Keep in mind that if you apply SPF makeup in the morning, you cannot expect it to still protect you several hours later. Friend Poppy Rowe, an organic makeup expert, introduced me to several high-quality products that are free from common toxic chemicals found in nearly all beauty products. My favorites are Suntegrity’s (suntegrityskincare.com) moisturizing face sunscreen and primer and 5-in-1 natural moisturizing face screen, which I use daily.
The key to sun safety is making it easy. Keep sun protective gear and sunscreen where it is readily accessible. Before you run out, order more: or have it Amazon-ed to you on a regular interval. After a few short weeks, applying these principles will become part of your normal routine. No more, “Oh, I forgot sunblock - oh well” before that long ride.
Not everyone will be diagnosed with the most deadly form of skin cancer, but those who catch it early have a fighting chance. Many more will be disfigured by other skin cancers, which quickly spread on the skin’s surface. All of these can be postponed or outright prevented, with little effort. Most importantly of all, make time to see a dermatologist each year, regardless of if you think you need to. No matter how dark you are and how well you tan, this applies to you.
Written by Sarah Vita, Siren Luminary
Follow Sarah on Instagram @sarahvita316