How to Protect Yourself from the Sun

Did you know that this year alone over 87,000 people in the US will be diagnosed with melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer? That’s according to an estimate from the American Cancer Society. Others in our community and country will be diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma (the most common form of skin cancer) and squamous cell carcinoma.

Skin cancer affects people of every ethnic background and race, so we all have to be careful. Follow these tips from Dr. Gita Agarwal, an adult clinician at Mary’s Center, to reduce your risk and prevent early skin aging too.

1.    Minimize your exposure to the sun.

You should be careful throughout the day, but especially between 10 am and 2 pm, when the sun’s rays are at their most intense. Look for a nice, shady spot instead!

2.    Cover up.

Wear pants, long-sleeved shirts, wide-brim hats to protect skin exposed to the sun. The CDC advises against using straw hats (because the holes let the sun through) and recommends hats made of tightly-woven fabric instead.

3.    Slather on some sunscreen!

-          Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect yourself from both UVA and UVB (ultraviolet radiation from the sun).

-          Make sure your sunscreen has an SPF or Sun Protection Factor of 15 or more.

-          Throw the sunscreen away if it’s past its expiration date and buy a new bottle.  You should also be aware that exposure to high temperatures (e.g.              inside a hot car or in a bag on hot sand on a sunny beach) shortens the life of the sunscreen.

-          Remember to put sunscreen on your neck, hands, feet, lips, ears and nose (but NOT in your mouth and eyes).

-          Reapply the sunscreen as often as advised in the instructions on the bottle, usually every 2 hours.

-          Reapply more often if you are sweating or swimming.

-          Be sure to ask your medical provider before using sunscreen on babies.

child with sunglasses

4.    Don’t forget your eyes.

Your vision is a precious asset, so you should do everything you can to protect yourself from the risk of melanoma of the eye. Be sure to wear sunglasses throughout the year whenever you are out in the sun, to protect yourself from harmful ultraviolet rays. Buy a pair with a label or tag showing that they block 99-100% of both UVA and UVB light (sometimes the label says "UV absorption up to 400nm”, which is the same thing). Try wraparound sunglasses which cover the sides of your face and provide peripheral protection. Larger sunglasses provide greater coverage, helping to protect more of the area around the eyes (eyelids and eyebrows) from skin cancer.  Remember that very expensive or darker sunglasses don’t necessarily protect you more than more affordable or lighter sunglasses. It’s the amount of UV protection that counts.

Be sure to share these sun safety tips with your friends and family, so they can protect themselves too.

One last piece of advice: If you develop a new mole or you notice that an existing mole is changing shape, color or size; or if you have a waxy bump, a brown or red scaly patch, a crusty wart or sore, or any other symptoms you are concerned about, please make an appointment to see one of our providers.

Call 1-844-796-2797 or request an appointment online.

Dr,. Gita AgarwalAbout Dr. Agarwal

Gita Agarwal, MD practices Family Medicine at the Mary’s Center site on Ontario Road in Adams Morgan, Washington, DC. She attended medical school in Karachi, Pakistan and completed her residency in Alabama. Dr. Agarwal joined the Mary’s Center team in July 2008 because of her interest in practicing primary care in a community setting with a wide range of ages and races as well as medical and social challenges. She speaks English, Urdu, Hindi and medical Spanish. In her spare time, Dr. Agarwal enjoys cooking, learning about other cultures, and raising her two children.



Key Statistics for Melanoma Skin Cancer by the American Cancer Society

Sun Safety by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

The Eyelids: Highly Susceptible to Skin Cancers by the Skin Cancer Foundation


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