Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States. One in every three cancers diagnosed is a skin cancer, and one in every five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. With summer here and as we spend greater time outdoors throughout the year, we place ourselves at risk for over-exposure and cumulative, toxic effects of the sun that can eventually promote the growth of skin cancers.
Common risk factors for developing skin cancer include blue, green or hazel eyes, many moles, history of severe sunburns, and a family history of skin cancer. People of color can get sunburned, and the effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation can damage their skin leading to the development of skin cancer. Adopting a common-sense approach to prevention through lifestyle choices that include sun-protective measures and limiting time outdoors will reduce your risk of developing skin cancer.
Our lifestyle choices contribute greatly to our chances of getting skin cancer. The most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers is sun exposure. According to Tamar Zapolanski, M.D., FAAD, Dermatologist, Valley Medical Group – Park Ridge, “Repeated overexposure to the sun can lead to premature aging and skin cancers called basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer.”
Slow The Signs Of Aging With Sun Protection
Environmental factors can damage the skin in multiple ways, from UVB rays causing sunburns and uneven pigmentation to UVA and infrared radiation penetrating more deeply into the skin to damage existing collagen and reduce collagen production, resulting in wrinkles and sagging skin. Habitual UV exposure can cause blood vessels to become more prominent, causing skin redness while visible light and pollution can cause uneven skin tone, especially in darker skin types. “Although there have been some impressive strides in anti-aging treatments, no one product or procedure can completely reverse the long-term effects of poor skin care decisions, and protective measures are the cornerstone of good skin care,” says Arianne Shadi Kourosh, MD, MPH, FAAD, director of community health and co-director of the multiethnic skin clinic in the department of dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston
As we’ve just discussed, too much time in the sun can lead to skin damage and increase the risk of skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Summer offers plenty of opportunities to be out basking in the sun and enjoying the outdoors at the beach, park or in your own back yard. But with sun exposure being the largest factor for development of skin cancer later in life, it’s important to take some simple precautions to ensure you’re doing your best to protect your skin from sun damage. Each day in the sun adds to the risk of developing skin cancer.
Since both types of UV rays can damage the skin, Dr. Kourosh says, it’s important to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that provides both UVA and UVB protection, with an SPF of 30 or higher. She recommends sunscreens containing the active ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as a good source of broad-spectrum protection suitable for sensitive skin. She also says formulations containing antioxidants may provide some protection against uneven skin tone and aging caused by free radical damage from infrared light, visible light and pollution.
Sunscreen should be applied at least 20 minutes before going outdoors and reapplied every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating. “Sunscreen protects against harmful radiation from the sun by absorbing, reflecting or scattering the sun’s rays on the skin,” explains Dr. Zapolanski. They are available in many forms including creams, lotions, gels, ointments, wax sticks, sprays or in cosmetic products like make-up and lipstick.
Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, when possible. For road trips, gardening, and walking or hiking, consider a travel kit that contains a small bottle of sunscreen, wrap-around sunglasses (ANSI UV), and a hat – with a three-inch brim or greater all around. UV-protective clothing is also a great sun-protective option.
Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand, as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn. Sunburns cause long-lasting damage from UV rays. Set a timer on your phone to avoid losing track of the time you spend in the sun. If you do get burned, cool your skin with water or cool compresses, cover up, moisturize and replenish with fluids. Get vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that may include vitamin supplements.
Avoid Tanning Beds
In addition to practicing sun protection, it’s important to avoid indoor tanning, which exposes users to harmful UV rays that can increase skin cancer risk and accelerate skin aging. Those who wish to look tan may want to consider a self-tanning product but should continue using sunscreen with it. “Whether you’re on a beach vacation or your daily commute, it’s crucial to protect yourself from exposure to harmful UV rays on a regular basis,” Kourosh says. “If you want healthy, younger-looking skin, it’s better to prevent now than try to correct later. If you have questions about sun protection, talk to a board-certified dermatologist.”
Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. The risk for skin cancer increases 75 percent for people who use a tanning bed before age 35. Tanning lamps give out UVA and UVB rays, which can damage the skin and increase the risk of skin cancer. “Ultraviolet radiation from the sun and indoor tanning beds not only can increase your risk of skin cancer but also can contribute to skin aging,” Kourosh said. “Moreover, other forms of radiation, such as heat and visible light, can negatively impact the skin, as can pollution, so protecting your skin from the environment can benefit both your health and appearance.”
Any time you notice anything changing, growing or bleeding on your skin, see a dermatologist. Skin cancer is very treatable when caught early. Regular dermatologic exams, and self-skin exams will help with early recognition of skin cancer. When performing self-exams, use the ABCDE method of mole/spot skin; A = asymmetry, B = border – irregular; C = color – not uniform, D = diameter – greater than 6mm, E = evolving – change in size, shape or elevation. “Whether you’re on a beach vacation or your daily commute, it’s crucial to protect yourself from exposure to harmful UV rays on a regular basis,” Kourosh added. “If you want healthy, younger-looking skin, it’s better to prevent now than try to correct later. If you have questions about sun protection, talk to a board-certified dermatologist.”