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It’s supposed to be hot for two more days before the weather finally returns to the normal 70-degree range. But Dr. Jennifer Gardner has one message for Northwesterners who might be sighing with relief: Keep sunscreen in hand.

“In the Pacific Northwest, we think we’re all protected, protected by our climate, the clouds,” said Gardner. “But a lot of UVA rays will come through the clouds and that penetrates the second layer of skin and causes skin cancer.”

Gardner, a dermatologist, specializes in the treatment of melanomas at UW Medicine’s Roosevelt Clinic. She stressed that hikers and water enthusiasts should take special precautions since the reflective rays can bounce up and burn you in areas not covered by clothes or sunscreen. Usually an SPF of 30 will suffice, she said, but people who are in the mountains, at snow level, or on the water may want to use SPF50 or 70. For best protection, she said, use a shot glass’ volume of sunscreen, approximately 1.5 ounces, every two hours to exposed skin. Yes, that’s a lot of sunscreen. Garner said many people simply don’t use enough to be effective.

People of any ethnicity can get skin cancer. Those with darker skin tones get cancer at lower rates than Caucasians; these patients are usually diagnosed at a later stage and experience a higher rate of mortality.

“Everyone should be their own skin cancer hero and check in places or have your partner check you for any signs of changes,” she said.

Demographically, youth is not a protection to melanomas. The youngest patient she’s treated for melanomas is 17 years old. And just one session with a tanning bed before age 21 increases the risk of developing a melanoma by 20 percent, some research indicates.

“The idea of a base tan making one safer is a complete myth,” she said. “There is no ‘safe’ tan.”

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on the UW Medicine Newsroom


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