Always. Wear. Sunscreen. You hear this constantly, from your mom, health articles (cough), and in a constant stream of advertisements, so chances are you’ve been religiously carrying your go-to SPF in your bag. But most people don’t realize that sunscreen by itself isn’t enough to protect you from serious health problems.
Just ask Norah O’Donnell of CBS This Morning. The news anchor recently battled melanoma, the increasingly common (not to mention deadly) form of skin cancer. The thing is, she’s someone who’s been diligent about sun protection and check-ups her entire life.
“I grew up in Texas and my parents have had basal cell carcinoma, which is pretty common,” says O’Donnell. “I’ve been getting body checks on a fairly regular basis, but I had let it slip in the last couple of years because of a work break.”
And that’s all it takes for something to happen (of course, on top of a lifetime of sun exposure). “I think my diagnosis with melanoma is a reminder of the importance of preventative care,” she says. “The whole point of that is to catch something early on before it becomes a problem.”
It’s also a reminder that you can get skin cancer even if you’re wearing strong sunscreen on the reg. “I’ve been very diligent about sun care and haven’t even ‘tanned’ by the pool in over a decade,” adds O’Donnell. “I’ve always worn SPF 50 and I haven’t had a sunburn in a really long time.”
With cases of melanoma rising—statistics indicate that over 87,000 Americans will be diagnosed this year—O’Donnell’s experience just goes to show that there’s more to being smart in the sun than slathering on the SPF.
So how does she prep for summer rays? Keep reading for her healthy warm-weather regimen.
Pile on the fruits and veggies
Yes, your diet choices make a difference. “Lots of studies say you can decrease your cancer risk anywhere from 30 to 40 percent based on what you eat—that’s huge,” says O’Donnell. “So I have a regular diet of leafy greens, vegetables, berries, fruits, and I try to stick with a Mediterranean diet.” Of course, that’s not a replacement for slathering on the SPF—but it’s another way to protect your body from the sun that you may have not realized.
Wear SPF-protected clothing
Wearing long sleeves at the beach may not sound appealing, but it’s cuter than a sunburn. “This year at the pool, I wear a long-sleeve sun shirt,” says O’Donnell. “Everyone’s making them this year, from Tory Burch to Diane Von Furstenberg—they’re really attractive and not the ugly body suits you think of.”
Also key? Hats. “I’m always wearing either a baseball cap or a broad-rimmed hat,” she adds. “I’ll also wear sunglasses when I’m running—I try to find the ones that cover half my face. The bigger the better.”
And pay attention to your habits, looking out for anything that could be undermining your coverage. “Sometimes you’ll wipe your eyes while running so you have to be sure to reapply,” she notes.
Get regular checkups
You know to get certain spots checked by the dermatologist—but O’Donnell stresses that you have to be diligent. “Sometimes you don’t see it,” she says, adding that she now has an appointment every four months. “It could be something you glance over and only a medical professional would notice if it looks suspicious. Thank goodness she caught mine.”