Hot days, cold drinks, and the excitement of summer, mean it is time to break out those bathing suits and bring on the fun.

You have waited all year for summer to return, and are more than prepared for beach trips or poolside playfulness. And with more time spent enjoying the outdoors, you might be prepared for the summer fun, but are you prepared to protect your skin?

Being outside means more sun exposure, and if not properly protected, that could lead to damaging effects on the skin and your health.

In fact, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of their lifetime. Asians and African Americans contract advanced stages of melanoma more frequently than Caucasians. And melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. says melanoma most often occurs in people of color on non-exposed skin. For example, 60-75 percent of tumors appear on the palms, soles, and mucous membranes. So protecting your skin during the summer is crucial. Pay attention to any changes in your skin or nails. Establish a skin regimen, such as using sunscreen daily. And see your physician annually for a full physical.

Although melanoma is more fatal in African Americans and Asians, the majority of people diagnosed are Caucasian males over age 50. Melanoma does not discriminate. This deadly skin cancer can affect anyone.

Continuous unprotected sun exposure can cause minor to severe sunburn, premature aging of the skin, a weakened immune system, cataracts, and other types of skin cancer. This year alone, an estimated 76,690 new cases of invasive melanoma will be diagnosed. You do not have to be in that number.

So first, to protect your skin, choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen. Those sunscreens are formulated to protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays, which are radiation wavelengths emitted from the sun. The sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before going outside, to ensure your skin has absorbed everything it needs to be protected. While outside, you should reapply your sunscreen every two hours to maintain a barrier between your skin and the sun. If you are swimming, your sunscreen should be reapplied once you get out of the water.

Other than wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen, there are many other ways to help protect your skin while enjoying your summer fun. Make sure your eyeglasses or contact lens offer 99 to 100 percent UV protection. UV rays are ultraviolet radiation from the sun and are also found in tanning beds. Also, to protect the delicate skin around your eyes, wear sunglasses while outside that also offer protection from UV rays.

Another source of protection is broad-brimmed hats. These large hats can offer shade and protection for your face, neck, shoulders, and back. Also, seek shaded areas when planning on being outside for extended periods of time. Along with the sunscreen, the shade will help protect your exposed skin from constant direct UVA and UVB rays.

Finally, drinking plenty of water and keeping your skin hydrated are great ways to prepare and protect your skin from the effects of sun exposure.

So whether you are headed to the beach, spending the day at the ballpark, or getting ready for Fourth of July cookouts and fun, being outside can be fun and enjoyable without harming your skin. Just remember some of the ways you can protect your skin before you go outside for summer fun.

Ashley Knight is a Birmingham, Ala., resident and regular Destin visitor. She is familiar with skin care because she has very sensitive skin.