A summer begins, protecting your skin is key

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- If you think that an occasional sunburn can't hurt, a new study suggests otherwise. Researchers at Brown University found that people with as few as five sunburns early in their lives raised the risk of later skin cancer by 80% -- and this includes the deadliest type: malignant melanoma.

But you can take steps to protect your skin.

With Skin Cancer Awareness Month wrapping up and the start of summer just kicking off, it's important to know how to protect yourself in the sun and break down some of the myths regarding sunscreen and how you can get skin cancer.

"I've had a couple of bumps like on my nose that I've been concerned about, so I always make sure I always put the Coppertone 50," says vacationer Ryan Dean.

Whether it be the lowest level -- basal cell carcinoma -- to the most dangerous -- malignant melanoma -- experts say prevention starts at an early age. "Sun exposure is cumulative. We bank sun exposure, almost like a bank account. What you're doing in your teenage years, your 20's your 30's, is you’re banking the damage and then when you get older it comes out," says dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth F. Callahan.

One beachgoer understands that all too well. As a teen, she thought she was invincible when it came to tanning. "I spent 6 years of my life going tanning every day, and I haven't tanned in 6 years. I refuse to go to a tanning bed. I know the damage has already been done," says Casey Dean.

Dermatologists say you should check yourself monthly for signs of skin cancer; just follow the A-B-C-D-E's.

"You want to look for asymmetry; one half not equal in the other. You want to look for irregular borders; that's what B stands for. 'C' for irregular colors; white and black. 'D' for diameter; something getting bigger. And the final one really, 'E'; you want to think about that -- something that's evolving. You had a very small spot, but every month it gets bigger and it gets more irregular," says Dr. Callahan.

Application is key; if not applied correctly, even an SPF of 50 could be ineffective. "The biggest mistake I see is that people don't put enough on. They trust the SPF number."

Vacationers tell ABC 7 they've learned the hard way from other family members who had skin cancer. "Because my mom had skin cancer and I don't want to get it," says Debra Becker.

As you make your way to the beach or the pool this summer, or even going outside for just a short amount of time, dermatologists say to apply at least 20 minutes before sun exposure and re-apply every 2 hours.

Dermatologist ABC 7 spoke to recommend sunscreens that are more mineral based, with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide; at least a 30 SPF with UVA & UVB protection.