Preventing Skin Cancer
Many people love the sun — especially at this time of the year. The sun can actually be good for you, giving you a healthy dose of Vitamin D. But too much sun can have consequences, since excessive exposure to the sun can put you at risk for skin cancer. (Yes, in case you’re wondering, tanning booths also put you at risk.)
The good news is that using sunscreen can protect you from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection (protects against UVA and UVB rays) of SPF 30 or higher. The other important thing you can do is to simply be aware of your body. Skin cancers often start as changes to your skin. To stay on top of your skin care routine, it’s a good idea to:
- Examine your skin every month. Notice any moles, spots or freckles you have and watch for any changes.
- See a dermatologist for a “full body check” every three years, beginning at age 20 and every year after age 40.
If you’re fair-skinned, be especially vigilant. An estimated 40% – 50% of fair-skinned people who live to be at least 65 years old will develop at least one type of skin cancer.
Learn to spot the early warning signs. Your annual exam is a great time to ask your primary care physician about prevention. Skin cancer is highly treatable and usually can be cured if it’s found in the early stages.
Can a “Base Tan” protect you from further sun damage?
People will often go to the tanning bed and get a “base tan” prior to going out into the sun for prolonged periods with the belief that it will protect them from sun damage. However, this is not the case! According to the Mayo Clinic, any change in skin color is a sign of UV damage, whether from a tanning bed or the sun. The best way to protect yourself from the sun is to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen (UV-A and UV-B protection) with an SPF of 15 or above.
All about Sunscreen
How does sunscreen work?
Sunscreen provides protection by absorbing, reflecting or scattering ultraviolet (UV) light. UV light is the rays from sun that can cause damage to your skin cells. There are three different types of UV light: UVA, UVB and UVC. Only UVA and UVB rays reach the earth. However, only UVB rays are damaging to your skin and eyes.
Sunscreen provides either physical or chemical protection from UV light. Physical sunscreens create a film that reflects or scatters the UV light before it can reach the skin. Typically, they contain zinc oxide or titanium oxide which protects against UVA and UVB rays. Chemical sunscreens absorb the UV rays before they can cause damage to your skin. They contain ingredients such as avobenzone or oxybenzone which protect against UVA or UVB rays.
What is SPF?
SPF stands for sun protection factor. It measures the amount of protection you get from UVB rays only. The higher the SPF, the more protection you get from the sun. However, SPF is not an indicator of how much time you can spend in the sun! For example, if you wear an SPF 30 rather than an SPF 15, it does not mean that you can spend twice as much time in the sun. An SPF 30 only filters out 4% more of the UVB rays you receive compared to an SPF 15.
Who should use sunscreen?
Anyone who spends time outdoors during daylight hours should wear sunscreen, even if you have dark skin or tan easily. Regardless of your skin type, the rays from the sun can still penetrate the surface of your skin and cause damage to the DNA in your cells, which ultimately can lead to skin cancer.
Children and infants are particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of UV rays. Infants under the age of 6 months should not be exposed to the sun at all. If you cannot keep your infant out of the sun, make sure you cover as much of their skin as possible and apply sunscreen to any exposed areas. Children and teenagers who experience at least two blistering sunburns are at an increased risk for developing skin cancer later in life, therefore you should take extra steps to protect them from the sun.
To maximize the protective effects of sunscreen, you should apply a liberal amount 30 minutes before going into the sun, and reapply every two hours thereafter. A liberal amount is considered 1-ounce (about the size of a shot glass) to cover all exposed parts of the body. Also, sunscreens are designed to remain stable for up to three years.