The Health Psy­chol­o­gist

Dr. Jen­nifer L. Hay, re­searcher spe­cial­iz­ing in melanoma and at­tend­ing psy­chol­o­gist at Me­mo­rial Sloan Ket­ter­ing Cancer Cen­ter in New York City

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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.

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