Skin Cancer and the Outdoors: 3 Tips From a Survivor

More than 9500 Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer every day, and more people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the U.S. than all other cancers combined.

Skin Cancer Fact

According to Skin Cancer statistics, at least 1 out of 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.

Growing up, I was the blonde hair, blue eyed boy that had nice dark skin from the Arizona sun.  I never wore sunscreen, and was always outside without a shirt.  I spent countless hours swimming in outdoor pools, lakes, rivers, you name it. 

And as I grew older, these habits and hobbies never changed.  Being outside without a shirt on in the sun was life for me.  And I was so ignorant to the idea of wearing sunscreen…I just did not like the way it felt on my skin, nor did I like taking the time to apply it.

Over the years of my adult life I have spent a lot of time at the beach, in the ocean, occasionally applying sunscreen because my wife would make me, until I had a wakeup call.  We lived in Biloxi, Mississippi and my wife kept telling me to get a mole I had on my right forearm looked at as she said it kept changing colors. 

The mole itself was perfectly circular and it did not look abnormal to me and the quick research I did on the web.  But after her persistence, and my boss telling me to go and get it checked it out I did.

The Dermatologist, who had been doing this line of work for over 20 years even said it did not look abnormal, but that he would shave it off and send it to the pathologist.  Three days later, while hard at work I received a very humbling call.  It was the dermatologist who told me the initial testing results came back as melanoma, but that I needed to come back in so he could cut the remainder out to determine the below depth.

A few days later after that and it was determined that I was at least Stage 1B.  So after having surgery to remove a good size chunk out of my arm and some lymph nodes out of my armpit, it was on to the next phase…proper protection from the sun.  Being outside is everything to me and my family, so I needed to find every possible way to keep my skin protected.

3 Tips For Skin Cancer Protection When Recreating

So here is what I have discovered to be great solutions for me while we are out adventuring, or just hanging out outside…and the below is in no particular order.

1. Sunscreen with Zinc Oxide

Why zinc oxide?  Well because it has proven to be one of two mineral sunscreens that actually sit on top of your skin physically blocking the sun’s harmful rays versus the other the chemical counterparts that absorb those harmful rays.

While there are many brands out there that sell sunscreen with zinc oxide in them, I am big fan of Sun Bum Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen is a non-greasy application that is made with minerals and contains 20% zinc.

At the end of the day however, any sunscreen will suffice.  And depending on how long you are in the sun, sweating, and/or exposed to some form of water reapplying often is very important.  Be sure you are hitting all exposed areas…face, neck, ears, hands, arms, legs, feet…you get the idea.  And don’t forget those lips…they need protection as well.

2. SPF Protected Clothing

I was impressed by how many companies make SPF protectant clothing.  And uniquely enough, the long sleeves help to also keep you relatively cool since the sun is not coming in direct contact with the skin.  Most of the apparel offered is lightweight, quick drying, and relatively comfortable. 

My go to’s when I am going to be out and do not feel like applying sunscreen all over is Free Fly Mens Bamboo Crossover Hoody, and Patagonia’s Long-Sleeved Capilene Cool Daily Graphic Shirt.  The Free Fly Bamboo Crossover Hoody has a nice soft feel and boasts a UPF rating of 50+. 

They also offer this hoody in a lightweight, but it is rated to a UPF rating of 20…although it has a nice quick drying feature which makes it nice when at the beach, on a boat, or at the pool.

Patagonia’s Capilene provides a UPF rating of 50+ is very lightweight, made with recycled material (50-100%) and has odor control technology. This shirt is also offered in a hoody, but when I purchased mine from REI, it was what they had in stock in my size.  

Sometimes I will also wear sun protective sleeves.  These are nice because they are easy to keep stuffed in your pack or in the car and are relatively cheap if you go with these from Amazon

With a UPF rating of 50, they are designed to be worn when running, playing outdoor sports, etc.  So they also translate very well when out hiking.  As you sweat the moisture helps to also keep you cool which is a nice feature.

3. Creating a Sun Exposure and Shade Cycle

One thing my dermatologist told me, was to not be afraid to go out in the sun…you need sun for vitamin D purposes.  He also knew I spent the majority of my time outside of work outdoors.  Establishing sun exposure to the shade cycle was something he recommended along with the previously mentioned steps.

It also helps if you do forget sunscreen and are not necessarily prepared clothing wise to keep you covered.  The main thing is not allowing your skin to burn.  Sunburn is bad! It’s also a quick way to increase the odds of skin cancer.

Every time we go out to explore and adventure, I evaluate where we will be going, what the shade options are, how long we will be out, ect.  And this is not just for me, but my family.  It is important that we all follow these guidelines and it helps to build in rest periods for the younger ones.


Skin cancer is something I would have never imagined I would have had.  As I look back, I could have done all of these simple things that could have prevented it all together…just sunscreen alone.  Regardless do not let the thought of possibly getting skin cancer to detract you from enjoying the outdoors.  There are plenty of ways to help protect your skin from skin cancer.

For more information on skin cancer and how to better protect yourself, visit the Centers For Disease Control at their website, here. Take the time in preparation to ensure you have the protection you need as well as your family. And if you are going to head out and adventure, please go and read Mike’s article on “Leave No Trace” as we try to spread the word on the importance of leaving the outdoors and mother nature better than we found it.

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