Achieving that once enviable, sun-kissed glow of summer not only speeds up the development of skin discolorations and wrinkles, it also dramatically increases your chance of skin cancer. Today, we know that there is a clear link between sun exposure and skin cancer. Yet, many are surprised to learn their risk. More than 4 million cases of basal cell carcinoma and 1 million cases of squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed in the United States each year. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. (source: Skin Cancer Foundation)
Most of us are exposed to substantial amounts of the sun’s rays throughout our lifetime. They are present during daylight hours, even when it’s cloudy. UVA and UVB rays play a key role in skin aging, wrinkling and skin cancer. Exposure to them causes cumulative damage over time. Having had one or more blistering sunburns as a child or teenager can even increase your risk of developing skin cancer as an adult.
Make Sunscreen a Daily Habit
The good news is that you can greatly reduce your risk of developing skin cancer, as well as slow down skin aging, by using a few proven preventive strategies. This starts with applying a sunscreen daily with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 with a broad spectrum to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Anything above SPF 30 has little incremental benefit, and below 30 is not effective enough. If applied correctly, this will block up to 97 percent of damaging rays. Reapplication is important, particularly if you are in the water or sweating.
There are two different sunscreen types on the market – chemical and physical blockers. Chemical blockers work by absorbing the sun’s rays, and physical blockers deflect the rays. Chemical sunscreens typically offer more coverage but take about 20 minutes after application to be effective. Some individuals can experience irritation from the active ingredients in sunscreens with chemical blockers. Physical sunscreens contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. They work immediately after application. Products containing zinc oxide are typically better for those with sensitive skin and offer protection against the entire spectrum of UVA and UVB rays. There are sunscreens on the market that contain both chemical and physical blockers.
Many women use makeup that contains sunscreen. While this can offer some level of protection, it typically is not sufficient. The safest bet is to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen under makeup. Don’t forget to use a lip balm or lipstick that also has SPF.
Other Skin Protection Strategies
While making sunscreen application a regular part of your daily routine is an important part of reducing your chance of developing skin cancer, it’s not the only way to protect your skin.
“No sunscreen is going to block 100 percent of the sun’s rays,” says Dr. Victoria Sharon, Director of Dermatologic Surgery and Dermato-Oncology at Northwell Health. “You need a multi-faceted approach that also includes wearing protective clothing and sunglasses and avoiding sun exposure during peak sunlight hours between 10am and 3pm.”
There are also new options when it comes to UV-protective products. A growing number of retailers are selling shirts, hats, pants, swimsuits and other clothing items that are made from fabric infused with chemicals that absorb UV rays. You can also create your own protective clothes by using one of the laundry detergents or laundry additives now available that distribute UV protection chemicals onto fabrics during the wash cycle.
Watch for Skin Cancer Symptoms
Most skin cancers are highly treatable when caught at an early stage. This is why it’s also important to watch for common signs of skin cancer. This means remembering the ABCDEs:
- “A” for asymmetrical. Is a mole or spot irregular with two parts that look different?
- “B” for border. Is the border irregular or uneven?
- “C” for color. Is the color inconsistent?
- “D” for diameter. Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a small pencil eraser?
- “E” for evolving. Has the mole or sot changed over a period of weeks or months?
If you have noticed a change, such as a new mole, a sore that doesn’t heal or any of the ABCDEs, get it checked out by your doctor. Learn more about the ABDEs of melanoma.
Want to learn more about preventing skin cancer? At Katz Institute for Women’s Health, we’re here to answer your questions. Call the Katz Institute for Women’s Health Resource Center at 855-850-5494 to speak to a women’s health specialist.