We are all used to dermatologists talking endlessly about sunscreen. I’m sure everyone got that memo! However, an equally important part of a sun protection plan is a hat, but you don’t hear as much about hats. Don’t get me wrong. Sunscreen is important. It should be part of everyone’s daily routine, but hats are an additional way to keep the damaging effects of the sun from causing premature aging, precancers and skin cancers. When used with sunscreen, hats are a perfect way to reduce even further the impact of the sun on the face, ears, neck and scalp where most skin cancers develop.
If you have a full head of hair, it might not seem necessary to protect your scalp, however that is not true. In my practice, we commonly remove skin cancers from the scalp in people with full heads of hair. Unfortunately, in many of these people, skin cancers grow undetected for much longer because they are hidden. They are often larger and more serious when detected. Even melanoma skin cancer can go undetected in the scalp for too long, changing it from a curable cancer to an incurable cancer.
Those with thinning hair or bald heads have an even bigger problem. Scalps are among the most common areas where cancers develop. Wearing a hat routinely will cut down on future problems no matter how much sun one has had in the past. It is never too late to start wearing a hat!
Baseball caps are among the most common hats that people like to wear. Although they look great, they really only protect the top of your head and to some small degree the face. Bucket hats are also popular and are ok, but the brim is too small to really provide protection for the face, lower ears and neck. It is far better to wear a broad-brimmed hat with a brim measuring 4 inches or more. Those hats should provide the best all-around coverage yet still allow one to see their surroundings while hiking, golfing, gardening, etc. You may find it easiest to remember to wear a hat if you keep one in each area where you should use it (gardening area, golf locker, tennis bag, or in your car). That way you can never forget it. It is already there!
Hats should be made of solid, tightly woven materials, not mesh, for the best sun protection. Hats, like clothing, can be rated for sun protection. UPF 50 is the highest rating to look for, but that doesn’t mean that unrated hats are bad. They just not be rated. As a quick test, hold the hat up to the light to see approximately how much light is allowed through the fabric. Look for hats that allow less light through.
Remember that if it isn’t comfortable, you won’t wear it. Be sure it fits appropriately, if you are not buying an adjustable hat. Trying hats on before you buy helps in this regard, but sometimes a hat has a different feel after being worn for hours. It really comes down to trial and error in finding the best hat for you and the “best hat” is the one you will wear!
More to come…
Michael Huether, M.D.