Do you remember your first sunburn? Not the one that turned your shoulders and your nose pink after an afternoon at the pool. The “I fell asleep while laying out at the beach and nobody woke me up to tell me to reapply my sunscreen” sunburn. The bright red, hurts to move, eventually peels sunburn. For most of us, that type of sunburn, while painful and frustrating at the moment, rarely inspires us to take better care of our skin. Maybe you’ve had so many sunburns you’ve lost count. Or maybe you’ve figured out how to avoid tomato-colored skin, but you’re still not actually protecting yourself from harmful sun exposure. As we anticipate the joys of summer and the days spent in the sun, we can’t ignore Skin Cancer Awareness Month and learn how to take care of our skin properly.
What Is Skin Cancer?
Ironically, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and just happens to be the most preventable. Skin cancer occurs when exposure to ultraviolet radiation, either from the sun or a tanning bed, causes DNA damage to skin cells. The abnormal skin cells then multiply and grow at a rapid pace forming malignant tumors. The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, and melanoma. Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer but is not as common as basal cell carcinomas.
Who’s At Risk For Skin Cancer?
Eighty-five to ninety percent of all forms of skin cancer are a result of cumulative ultraviolet radiation exposure. Meaning, whatever your age, you put yourself at risk for skin cancer—especially if you spend a significant time in the sun over a period of time. Don’t ever assume that you are too young or too old to consider protecting yourself from the sun. One of the reasons elderly people are at a greater risk for skin cancer is their length of life which includes time in the sun, as well as believing the damage has already been done and skin protection is no longer necessary. Those previously diagnosed with skin cancer have a 20% chance of developing skin cancer within two years, and those with diseases linked to chronically weak immune systems are also at high risk. Anyone with fair skin, light-colored eyes, and blonde or red hair are especially susceptible. If you fall into this category and spend time in the sun near the equator or at high elevations, be sure you are using extra precautions as the sunlight is intensified in these areas.
Protect Yourself From Skin Cancer
There are several ways you can still enjoy the sunshine while protecting your skin from cancer. From 10 am to 4 pm the sunlight is harshest, so find a shady area to enjoy the outdoors. If you’re at the beach, spend most of your time under an umbrella so that you don’t burn. Avoid a sunburn at all cost. That should be your number one goal. Sunburns are the trigger for DNA damage in the skin, so the more sunburns you have over time, the greater your chance of skin cancer in the future. Plan a beach or pool activity with your friends and family rather than tanning, and avoid a tanning bed altogether. Protect your face and your eyes by wearing sunglasses that block UV rays and a wide-brimmed hat. (Take advantage—those are trendy right now!) When applying sunscreen, make sure you’re using a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with at least 15 SPF. If you’ll be in the sun for a long period of time, make sure the SPF is 30 or above and the sunscreen is water-resistant. You’ll want to apply sunscreen thirty minutes before going outdoors and reapply every two hours. After swimming or sweating excessively, reapply immediately after drying your skin. Use these tips to make sure your children learn safe ways to enjoy the sun, but keep newborns away from direct sunlight and do not apply sunscreen to babies younger than six months. As you plan your summer activities, attempt to make these adjustments a part of your lifestyle. Healthy skin lasts much longer than your summer tan!
Begin to notice abnormal notice spots on your skin and pay attention to any moles or freckles that change shape, color, or size. These could indicate the development of skin cancer and if caught early, can almost always be cured. Contact your doctor immediately if you see something alarming and need a professional opinion. If you have questions about skin cancer or your overall health, schedule an appointment at The Woman’s Clinic today.