The longest days of the year are upon us, which means even more sunshine in sunny San Diego. One area of the body often forgotten when applying sunscreen is the scalp. This is true for both men and women with thin or thinning hair.
“Men who are bald or have bald spots, as well as people with thinning hair or even a receding hairline, have to be especially careful in the summer months to ensure that their scalp is adequately protected,” says Dr. Elan Newman, a dermatologist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “The scalp is frequently overlooked and is particularly vulnerable to both UVA and UVB sunrays.”
The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that more than 90% of malignant skin cancer, or melanoma, is due to excessive sun exposure with too little or no sunscreen or other sun protection. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, melanoma of the head and neck can spread more quickly to other parts of the body, and requires treatment that is more aggressive than for other cancers.
The good news, according to Dr. Newman, is that you can greatly reduce your risk of skin cancer simply by wearing sunscreen. Studies suggest that daily use of sunscreen can reduce your risk of developing melanoma by as much as 50%.
Get in the sunscreen habit
It’s important for men and women to make sunscreen part of their daily routine. Here are some sunscreen tips to keep in mind:
- Keep sunscreen near your toothbrush or other daily hygiene items so you’ll remember to use it each morning.
- Use sunscreen with an SPF of 50 or higher.
- Apply sunscreen to the face, scalp, ears and all other exposed areas of skin.
- Set an alarm on your watch or smartphone to remind you to reapply sunscreen throughout the day.
Current sun safety recommendations call for applying one full teaspoon of sunscreen to each part of your body 30 minutes before going into the sun, and reapplication every few hours after going into the water or excessive sweating.
Other scalp protection tips
“It’s important to remember that sunscreens are just a ‘screen’ and not a ‘shield’,” says Dr. Newman. “They don’t fully block the UV light from reaching the skin; they simply lower the amount of damaging light that penetrates the sunscreen.”
In addition to applying sunscreen, Dr. Newman recommends wearing sun-protective clothing, such as a wide-brimmed hat, and minimizing outdoor activities between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm, when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
“Men and women should ask their doctor to check for skin cancer every year,” says Dr. Newman. “It’s especially important for people with thinning hair or bald spots to have someone else check the areas of the scalp they cannot see, to identify suspicious spots.”
Preventive self-care is also essential, including frequent checks of exposed areas of the body and noting any changes to the skin — moles with changing color, shape or irregular borders.
Dr. Newman suggests talking with your doctor if you are concerned about suspicious moles or other skin growths.