The Health Psychologist
Dr. Jennifer L. Hay, researcher specializing in melanoma and attending psychologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City
Go beyond sunscreen
“I don’t over-rely on sunscreen,” says Hay, whose father died of melanoma when she was 7. “There’s a misconception that if you use sunscreen well, you can stay out and be safe.” The truth: Even high SPFs let through about 3 percent of the sun’s carcinogenic rays— and that’s assuming you apply sunscreen correctly. So Hay relies more on clothing, hats, and planning. As much as possible, she schedules her days to avoid direct sun when it’s most risky: from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Remember, sun is sun
Whether you’re at the park, at a baseball game, or out jogging, remind yourself that you’re getting the same sun that you would at the beach or a pool. Hay’s trick to ensure she’s protected: “I keep bottles of sunscreen everywhere— at home, in the car, in my gym bag, in my purse. It’s difficult to forget to apply or reapply because I’ve overplanned.”
Heed the power of the rays
When Hay was growing up, her mother made sure she was diligent about sun protection. But as a teen, “I had some lapses I regret now,” she says. It haunts her still because of the potential consequences: Getting just five bad burns between ages
15 and 20 increases melanoma risk by 80 percent. Because she has seen the devastating effects of skin cancer both in her personal life and at work, she never underestimates the dangers of the sun. “A lot of people think skin cancer is not serious and that they can just get it removed,” she says. The reality: “Melanoma is difficult to treat beyond stage 1, and it’s very common in young people,” she says. According to the most recent data from the American Academy of Dermatology, melanoma is the second most common form of cancer in women ages 15 to 29. Information like that is enough to make anyone run for cover.