From Bonnets to Bikinis

Amanda FloecknerHealthy Living

Sun exposure over the decades and what you should know — we know more than we used to!

Our skin is our largest and most visible organ. Over the last 100 years our skin continues to be more exposed to the sun as styles and attitudes change and become more open and relaxed.

In recent decades, having a tan has been thought of as a ‘healthy look’. But, further back in time, the idea of fair and unblemished skin — untouched by sun damage was seen as beautiful and refined. Hats for men and bonnets for women were common and part of what was considered fashionable.

Yet beyond style, there was some healthy wisdom in trying to avoid sun exposure because as we now know, sun damage can have serious and at times fatal effects.


The sun’s ultraviolet rays; UVA and UVB enter the skin to different depths but both damage the skin’s DNA, producing genetic mutations which lead to skin cancer.

BASAL CELL CARCINOMA is the most common type if skin cancer. Basal cell carcinomas are usually caused by a combination of cumulative, intense and occasional sun exposure.

SQUAMOUS CELL CARCINOMA is the second most common type of skin cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma is caused by a history of daily year-round sun exposure, excessive sun exposure in the summer months or from using tanning beds.

MALIGNANT MELANOMA is the least common, but most deadly form of skin cancer. Melanoma is caused mainly by intense, occasional sun exposure (for example, sun exposure, even if it’s infrequent but leads to sunburn), especially in those who are genetically predisposed to the disease. People who use UV tanning beds are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors.


  • See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.
  • Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
  • Suspicious moles are not the only sign of skin cancer. Pay attention to any skin changes and report them to your doctor.


  • Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
  • Do not burn.
  • Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used only on babies over the age of six months.

Although bonnets might not be a fashion statement you wish to make in the near future, consider using clothing and lotions that will protect your skin when exposed to the sun. Your skin plays an important role in your health – keep it safe!

Understanding your risk of developing skin cancer based on
skin type can be helpful with prevention.Find out your skin type by taking this quick assessment:

By Eileen Mulcaire RN, BSN, OCN, Merle Cancer Care Nurse

The Skin Cancer Foundation;
A Guide to Skin Cancers and Pre-cancers; published by the Skin Cancer Foundation