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Mom and daughter getting ready before going to the beach putting some sunblock on

How to protect yourself from the sun and spot signs of skin cancer

Many of us in the upper Midwest hungrily soak up the sweet, short summer. We rush out the door, not wanting to lose even one hour of sunshine. But forgetting sunscreen could be deadly.

One person dies of melanoma every 54 minutes, according to

"Many do not know that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and yet it's the most preventable," says Sarah Marts, marketing and events coordinator at Fargo's Catalyst Medical Center and Clinical Spa.

Most often skin cancer is linked to cumulative sun exposure that causes mutations in DNA. The mutations cause the cells to grow out of control, forming a mass of cancer cells. Melanoma — the most dangerous form of skin cancer — develops from this unrepaired DNA damage. Other factors, like environmental toxins or a reduced immune system, are additional potential causes.

"Those of us who live in Fargo may feel we are less at risk due to our northern location which causes us to forgo sunscreen on more than one occasion," Marts says. "However, the sun can damage your skin even on cloudy day."

The sun emits energy through its ultraviolet radiation — most often called UV rays. These UV rays can be categorized by their wavelengths (or distance traveled from the sun to Earth). UV rays are separated into three different wavelengths: UVA, UVB and UVC. The Earth's ozone layer absorbs the UVC rays but UVA and UVB rays can cause premature skin aging, eye damage and some skin cancers.

Prevent damage: SPF explained

Sun Protection Factor (SPF) indicates how long it will take for UV rays to redden skin when applying sunscreen compared to how long it will take to damage skin without the product.

Broad spectrum SPF is usually most effective as it shields skin from UVA and UVB rays. An SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of rays, while SPF 30 blocks nearly 97 percent. Using a higher SPF can be added safety margin as most people do not reapply sunscreen enough while outdoors. Although, a SPF 50 or higher has a minimal increase in protection, blocking 98 percent. A higher SPF can sometimes "trick" people into not taking extra precautions like limiting their time outdoors.

While SPF helps to shield skin from UV rays, it does not block rays completely. Take these steps to protect your skin:

• Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.

• Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more.

• Apply 1 ounce (or 2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside.

• Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.

• Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of 6 months.

April Knutson

April Knutson is lifestyle-focused journalist producing stories for the Forum News Service about people, health, community issues, and services. She earned her degree in both English Literature and Mass Communications. After working as a digital marketing specialist and web design consultant for a few years, she joined Forum Communications in 2015. She grew up on a farm near Volga, S.D. Follow her on Twitter @april_knutson.

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