As we begin the month of May, many are already planning for Memorial Day and the “unofficial” start of the summer season. But, as we spend more time outdoors in the warmer weather, do not let your fun in the sun lead you to a visit with a skin cancer specialist at the Georgia Cancer Center.

“Tanning is visual evidence of a significant change in your skin, so no tan is healthy or safe,” said Dr. Jigarkumar Parikh, a medical oncologist at the Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University. “Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays with a Sun Protection Factor of at least thirty. And remember, you should apply sunscreen about an hour before going out into the sun, reapplying it about every two hours – and more often if you are swimming.”

It is not always easy to do, but it is actually best to wear sunscreen every day. You should routinely use sunscreen if you will be exposed to the sun for more than 10 to 15 minutes. Driving, sitting in your office in front of a window and walking outside all expose you to the sun. So, try incorporating sunscreen application into your daily schedule. Products such as moisturizer/sunscreen combos and sunscreen sprays make daily application easier and more convenient.

“The sun may not feel hot during the winter or on cloudy days, but the UVA and UVB rays are still there and are still being absorbed by your skin,” Parikh said. “The bottom line is you can still get burned. So, remember your sunscreen and your protective gear even when it is cloudy or is a cool, sunny day.”

Now, it is important to spend time in the sun because sunshine helps fill our bodies with vitamin D, which is important for helping our bodies absorb calcium from our diet helping us build stronger bones as we age. You only need about five to 15 minutes of sun exposure two to three times a week on your face and hands for your body to produce a sufficient supply of vitamin D. In addition, milk, and other vitamin D-rich foods as well as multivitamins are excellent sources of vitamin D that will not damage your skin.

Of course, some people take to tanning beds to keep their summer glow lasting all year long. Tanning beds use ultraviolet light, similar to the UVA and UVB rays emitted by the sun. In fact, the effects of UV exposure are intensified in a tanning bed. Spending an hour in a tanning bed is easily equivalent to spending several hours outside in the sun. The result is skin damage and premature aging.

“While a suntan might look attractive, it is actually your skin’s way of telling you it has sun damage,” Parikh said. “The deeper the tan, the more your skin is fighting to protect itself from this damage and skin cancer.”