Lucky enough to be heading to warmer climes this winter? Stay savvy about the sun.

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You may be on vacation, but your skin isn’t.

Travelers should be aware that ultraviolet  radiation from the sun -- even on such a brief jaunt as a several-day beach vacation -- plays a significant role in the development of skin cancer.

In fact, about 86 percent of melanomas and 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to its UV rays.

Skin cancer risk depends greatly on cumulative lifetime sun exposure, but the Skin Cancer Foundation reports that melanoma has been linked most frequently to intense exposure, the kind Midwesterners soak up on tropical vacations.

This kind of periodic, concentrated UV exposure frequently causes sunburn and severely damages the skin. It is believed to also play a part in basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer.

On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns.

Those tempted to get a “base tan” before hitting the beach should beware -- experts at the Foundation say there’s no such thing as a healthy or protective tan. Whether obtained by lying out in the sun or through using a tanning bed, a tan represents DNA damage to the skin.

Before you head to that sunny destination, consider these tips:

• Cover up. Clothing is your first line of defense against the sun’s UV rays and it is a consistent shield.

Going to be in the water? Wearing UV-absorbing swimwear like wetsuits and rash guards offers extra protection. Make sure you have a sarong, loose shirt or similar light clothing on shore.

• Shield your face. Sunglasses that filter out the sun’s UV rays will help protect your eyes and eyelids from conditions including cataracts, while a broad-brimmed hat (with at least a 3-inch-wide brim all around) will help protect the top of the head, neck, face, ears and scalp.

• Beware of reflection: Water and sand reflect the sun’s UV rays, adding to the intensity of exposure.

• Apply sunscreen: Using a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day is crucial. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Apply one ounce, or two tablespoons, every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating heavily.

• Seek Shade: During peak sun hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) keep covered under a large sun umbrella.

It’s best to hit the beach early in the morning or late in the afternoon and you’ll be doing yourself an extra favor by avoiding the crowds!

• Avoid purposeful tanning. Tanning increases the risk of developing skin cancers, including melanoma. In addition, tanning leads to premature skin aging, including wrinkles, leathery skin and age spots.


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