The most common form of cancer in the United States isn’t breast cancer. It’s also not lung cancer. More Americans are diagnosed with melanoma, or skin cancer, than any other form of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fortunately, you can limit your risk of skin cancer, even if you’re an avid hiker. Simply follow these five simple steps to protect yourself from the sun while hitting the trails.
You’re no longer limited to thick, greasy lotion when it comes to sunscreen. You can find water-based formulas, spray-on options or roller-based dispensers that don’t require you to get your hands dirty. Today, health-based sunscreen companies offer many choices for conscientious consumers. Any outdoor goods store will stock sunscreens free of coral-harming oxybenzone and parabens, eye-irritating fragrances and allergens like PABA and other chemicals. If you want sunscreen with a minimum of unhealthy additives, look for formulas that primarily use zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These minerals block UVA and UVB rays without the need for harmful chemicals.
Wear Long Sleeves and Pants
When possible, limit the amount of skin exposed to the sun’s rays. Choose long-sleeved shirts made from lightweight, synthetic materials to keep yourself cool. If you want to get really fancy, you can pick up high-tech options at outdoor stores with UV-blocking, sweat-wicking, flatlock seams, insect-repellant or antimicrobial options. For daytime hikes, stay away from natural fibers like cotton or wool; these fabrics will keep you too warm to enjoy a sunny stroll. As a bonus, pants will protect you from scratches, poison ivy and insect bites. Just stay away from denim, which is too heavy for long hikes.
Protect Your Lips and Eyes
Don’t neglect to protect your entire face. Choose sunglasses with UV protection to limit long-term damage to your eyes, or you’ll be at increased risk of developing cataracts, glaucoma and even eye cancer. Also, apply lip balm with SPF of at least 15 to prevent damaging the delicate skin of your lips. Alternatively, you could smear sunscreen over your lips, but wouldn’t lip balm be a lot more pleasant?
Avoid the Sun’s Peak Hour
The sun’s skin-damaging rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., according to Medline. You can still make the most of a long hiking weekend, even with a reduced mid-day schedule. Enjoy early morning sunrise hikes, then stay under the shade for a long siesta or cook-out before hitting the trails again. If you prefer longer hikes, try to plan your route so you’ll be under heavy foliage during the sun’s hardest-hitting hours. Dense forest can’t completely block UV rays, but it can go a long way towards protecting you. At the very least, make sure to follow the other advice in this post if you go hiking during these hours; it’s extra important to wear sunscreen, long sleeves and pants, a hat and sunglasses when you’re under the mid-day sun.
Wear a Hat
A broad-brimmed hat will limit the amount of UV rays hitting your face and neck, which is great news when you’re 4 hours into a 30-mile hike and sweated off all of your sunscreen around mile 10. Plus, a hat can keep your overall body temperature from rising too high, and the right choice in headgear will look positively dashing in photos. If you can’t find the perfect hat, don’t worry – taking it off for a few minutes of photos won’t cause any long-term damage if you follow the other tips for protecting yourself from the sun.
Even if you’re not worried about skin cancer, taking the proper steps to prepare for you hike offers other benefits. You want to come back from a long trip to the mountains relaxed, not covered in sunburns and insect bites. Take care of your skin so you can enjoy nature for a lifetime.