Guest post by retired dermatologist J. Michael Taylor, MD, MPH
According to a recent survey by the Skin Cancer Foundation, men over age 50 are twice as likely as women to die from malignant melanoma. This difference increases with age.
Men are also much more likely to develop the more common, but less threatening, basal and squamous cell carcinomas.
The reasons for this are not mysterious. The survey noted that only 51% of U.S. men reported using sunscreen once during the past 12 months and 70% did not know the warning signs of skin cancer. Another risk factor is that men often spend more time out in the sun working and playing.
Sun protection rules for everyone
With one exception, the rules for men are really not a lot different from the rules for women.
- You need to apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going outside. If you forget, put it on anyway knowing that it takes about 20 minutes to kick in.
- Men are not as meticulous as women when applying sunscreen. Don’t forget the neck — both back and front. Shoulders, arms and legs, too, if they are going to be exposed. Also, apply to tops of the ears and top of the head if your hair is thinning if you shave your head or have a buzz cut.
- Schedule your outdoor sports before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. when the sun is less intense. But remember that UVA is always present during daylight hours, even in the morning or late afternoon and when it’s overcast.
- Purchase some nice sun protective clothing. There are lots of effective and good looking hats, shirts, shorts and long pants out there. Rash guards are essential beach and water sportswear. They work, they’re really comfortable, and they look good too. Check out REI, Land’s End, LLBean, Coolibar, Cabanalife, and Sun Precautions, for starters.
- Baseball caps just don’t make it. You need a broad-brimmed hat. To be effective, a hat should shade the ears, eyes, and back of the neck. As we age, men begin to get bald on the crown of the head, which is a frequent location of sun damage for men.
- Wear sunglasses. Your eyes need to be protected too.
The exception: Some men have added protection
A beard does provide some sun protection of up to SPF 15. But the beard must be thick and 3.5 inches to achieve that result, so don’t depend on your short, neatly-trimmed beard or shadow for much protection.
About choosing a sunscreen
- Choose a sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or more. An SPF of 50+ isn’t really giving you much more protection.
- Choose one that is water resistant to 80 minutes, particularly if you’re perspiring or in the water.
- Look for non-nanoparticle mineral sun protection (zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide) as these are less irritating than chemical sunscreens and they don’t produce heat while working on the skin.
- Comfort is a major consideration since if it doesn’t feel good, you’re less likely to use it.
- Look for reef-friendly products, particularly if you’re participating in water sports.
- Don’t forget to reapply after 2 hours.
Tips about applying sunscreen
- The ideal time to apply sunscreen is after showering or after washing your face while your skin is still damp. This allows moisture to be locked in and the sunscreen spreads more evenly.
- For men, it’s best to shave before applying in order to get more even protection and avoid whitening around facial hairs.
- Remember to apply to the sensitive areas around eyes — under the eyebrows and on laugh lines — places where sunglasses may not adequately cover.
Check your skin
- Examine your skin from head to toe monthly (choose, say, the first Sunday of every month so it’s easy to remember). If you have a spouse or significant other, ask for help since you can’t see your back.
- Although most suspicious lesions are noticed by the individual himself, it is good to have a head to toe check up by a dermatologist once a year — especially as you get older.
Dr. J. Michael Taylor is a retired dermatologist from Portland, Maine. He currently co-owns Ocean Elements®, a company that develops and sells skin care products.