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Make It a Habit
After nudging your kids to cover themselves with sunscreen—perhaps even resorting to that mortifying mom move of smearing it on them yourself—don't forget to safeguard the skin you're in. Only 23 percent of your lifetime sun exposure occurs by age 18, so it's crucial to shield yourself from harmful rays at any age. But protective efforts don't need to end with your go-to SPF. "No sunscreen offers 100 percent protection, so you want to do everything you can to defend yourself," says Leslie Baumann, M.D., a dermatologist and clinical investigator in Miami and author of The Skin Type Solution. "You can do it topically and internally"—a one-two punch that's even more powerful than either approach alone.
Note: Every part of an orange—including the rind—could help protect you from skin cancer.
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Build a Better Defense
We know you're busy, but adding one step to your beauty regimen could change everything. Research finds using a topical combination of vitamin C, vitamin E and ferulic acid (an antioxidant) can protect against the harmful cellular changes that occur in skin exposed to UV rays. Your best bet is to apply a serum followed by sunscreen in the morning, advises Lisa Donofrio, M.D., an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University. Try SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic ($109) or Cosmetic Skin Solutions Vitamin C + E Serum ($40).
Green tea may not only offer protection against UV damage to skin but also induce anti-tumor activity by the immune system. And you don't have to go green. People who regularly drank two or more cups per day of any kind of tea had a 35 percent lower risk of squamous-cell skin cancer than non-tea-drinkers, according to researchers at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. Tea "is beneficial because it acts as an antioxidant by protecting against the formation of free radicals," explains Dr. Donofrio.
Researchers from the National Cancer Institute found that people who consumed a diet loaded with foods rich in vitamin D and carotenoids (compounds that give orange, yellow and red fruits and vegetables their vibrant color) had a reduced risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. "Nature has provided a way to deal with environmental UV radiation—and it's by eating whole, antioxidant-rich foods," says David J. Leffell, M.D., a professor of dermatology and surgery at the Yale School of Medicine and author of Total Skin. So next time you're grocery shopping, stock up on apricots, mangoes, tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, eggs and salmon. In addition, consider tossing grated orange rind or a few curls of lemon peel into a salad or cooked dish. University of Arizona in Tucson researchers discovered that people who consume citrus peel had a 34 percent lower chance of developing squamous-cell cancer. A hidden perk: the dash of extra flavor.
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More Tips to Try
Ask your dermatologist if you'd benefit from a retinoid or vitamin B in the evening. "Using a cream with niacinamide [a form of vitamin B3] at night can help your skin cells repair themselves from DNA damage," says Dr. Baumann. Alternatively, a topical retinoid (such as retinol, tretinoin or tazarotene), which is derived from vitamin A, can get rid of precancerous lesions called actinic keratosis and may help reverse sun-inflicted harm to the skin, notes Mary Lupo, M.D., a dermatologist in New Orleans. "This is likely due to both an anti-inflammatory mechanism and the normalization of cellular processes," she says.
Believe it or not, carrying around extra weight could increase your odds of skin cancer. A University of Iowa study of nearly 45,000 people found that those with the highest body mass index had 2 1/2 times greater odds of developing melanoma. Part of the danger may have to do with the increased skin surface area that occurs with obesity, but excess body fat also could produce hormonal changes and chronic inflammation, says Albert Lefkovits, M.D., an associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. Getting rid of those extra pounds may not only reverse the trend but also make you feel better than ever in a bathing suit this season.
After analyzing 25 studies, researchers concluded that smoking raises your risk of squamous-cell carcinoma, the second most common form of skin cancer, by 52 percent. Tobacco smoke is a carcinogen, just like the sun's ultraviolet rays, so you're increasing your risk when you expose yourself to both, Dr. Lefkovits says. Plus, tobacco and UV radiation suppress immune function. Talk to your M.D. about which smoking-cessation strategies are likely to help you quit for good.