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Doc, does older skin need sun protection?

Here are tips to lower your chances of getting skin cancer.

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Dear doctor, 

I’m 70 years old. When I was younger, we used baby oil and aluminum blankets to get a tan. I know better now, but do I still need to protect my skin at my age?

Sincerely, Nancy

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Dear Nancy,

I’m glad you’re no longer baking yourself in the sun. But don’t think you’re off the hook for protecting your skin.

Believe me, you still have a chance of getting skin cancer. In fact, most cases of skin cancer are found in people older than 65 years of age. This is because aging skin is more easily damaged by the sun. And, that raises your chances of getting skin cancer. 

Less than half of older adults protect their skin when outside for an hour or more. But it’s important that you do. Here are some tips to follow.

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Schedule your annual skin exam

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Ask your doctor about it during your Annual Wellness Visit.

Find care in your state

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Stay in the shade

The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If your shadow is shorter than you are, find a shady spot.

Wear clothing that can block the sun

When you shop, look for clothing that has an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) label. Good choices include: 

  • A lightweight, long-sleeved shirt
  • Long pants
  • A wide-brimmed hat
  • Sunglasses with UV protection
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Use the right sunscreen

Choose one that’s water-resistant. That will help keep it from washing or sweating off. 

Pick a sunscreen that helps protect you from both UVA and UVB rays. It should have an SPF of 30 or higher. Remember to:

  • Use sunscreen when you're outside, even on cloudy days.
  • Use enough sunscreen to cover all skin not covered by clothing. Most adults need about one ounce to fully cover their body. That's about enough to fill a shot glass.
  • Put sunscreen on the tops of your feet, your neck, your ears and the top of your head.
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When outdoors, you may need to reapply sunscreen. Do so every two hours, or after swimming or sweating. Use extra caution near water, snow and sand. They act like a mirror and bounce the sun’s damaging rays your way. This can raise your chances of sunburn.

Don’t use tanning beds

They give off UV light like the sun. This can cause skin cancer and premature skin aging. If you want to look tan, use a self-tanning product. But you'll still need to use sunscreen.

Check yourself often

See your doctor if you:

  • See new or odd-looking spots on your skin, or
  • See anything changing, itching or bleeding

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. But you can care for it if it's found early.

In good health, 

Joshua Jacobs, MD, FAAFP
National Medical Director, Provider Intelligence
Clinical Performance, Optum Care 

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Will Medicare cover an Annual Wellness Visit?

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Original Medicare covers the Annual Wellness Visit at 100% of the Medicare-approved amount when you get the service from a provider who accepts Medicare. You pay nothing (no deductible or coinsurance).

Medicare Advantage plans must cover Annual Wellness Visits without applying deductibles, copays or coinsurance when you:

  • See a network provider, and 
  • Meet Medicare’s rules for the service
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The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs.