Summer is the best time of year-barbeques with friends, time at the beach and pool, wearing flip-flops, growing flowers, and the abundant sunshine! While we all crave sun, the harmful rays can do lasting skin damage and are proven to cause skin cancer. Skin cancer is the #1 cancer in the US. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70. Since the 1970’s, malignant melanomas (the most dangerous type of skin cancer) have increased 4% every year. Approximately 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day and two people die every hour from the disease. As few as 5 sunburns in your life doubles your risk for melanoma. It is important to understand the damage the sun causes, your risk factors, how you can protect yourself, and the importance of early cancer detection.
There is no such thing as a healthy tan. A tan is a sign of skin damage, as is sunburn. Sun damage and exposure is cumulative, so the more sun, over your lifetime, the greater your risk. Tanning beds also contribute to skin cancer. Acute and long-term effects of a tan and sunburn:
- Degenerative changes in the skin like freckles and pigmented areas
- Accelerated aging of the skin like wrinkles and loss of elasticity
- Excessive dry skin
- Increased risk for skin cancer included basal, squamous and melanoma
Types of Rays
There are two types of rays emitted from the sun-UVA and UVB. UVA rays are long wave and can reach the middle layer of your skin. UVA are also emitted from tanning beds. UVB rays are short wave and associated with aging and burning on the outermost layer of skin. Both types of rays do damage to the DNA in skin cells causing defects or mutations that can lead to skin cancer and premature aging. UV rays continue to cause damage on cloudy days (80% of the damaging rays still come through) and can penetrate glass. Drivers should take precautions from these damaging rays everyday.
Those with fair skin are more at risk, but darker skinned individuals can still suffer from skin damage and skin cancer with overexposure. Your risk is higher if you:
- Have fair skin, blue eyes, red or fair hair
- Live in a southern climate
- Suffered sunburns as a child
- Have a large number of moles
- Have a history of benign skin cancers
- Take a medication that increases sensitivity to the sun
Types of Cancer
Basal cell carcinomas (BCC) and Squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) are abnormal, uncontrolled growths that arise on the outermost layer of skin. BCC is the most common form of skin cancer. These benign forms of cancer can metastasize if not detected and treated early. They appear mostly on the face, neck, hands, scalp and ear-places regularly exposed to the sun. They are almost always curable when discovered early. Self-checks and regular physician checks are important for early detection and treatment. Melanoma is the malignant form of skin cancer. It develops in the cells that give the skin color or melanin. Melanoma may appear as moles and can be found all over the body-even in places not exposed to the sun. Melanoma can be treated, if detected early, but its ability to spread quickly can make it very dangerous.
Early detection has demonstrated that 99% of skin cancers are curable. The key is monthly skin checks on your own and at least a once yearly physician skin check. Check out How to Perform a Skin Self-Exam from the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
Take the time, each day, to protect yourself from the damaging rays of the sun, even on days you plan to remain mostly indoors or driving.
- Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen (protects from both UVA and UVB rays) everyday
- Use SPF 15 or higher and apply 30 minutes prior to going outside
- Use SPF 30 or higher for longer outdoor exposures
- Apply a shot glass (2 tablespoons) amount of sunscreen to your body
- Reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating
- Pay attention to ears, neck, hands, feet, lips and head when applying sunscreen
- Limit your time in the sun especially during prime sun time-10:00 to 4:00
- Utilize an umbrella with SPF when at the beach or park
- Wear protective clothing including long sleeves, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses
- Use caution around snow, sand, and water that reflect the damaging rays
- Keep babies under the age of 6 months out of the sun and protect your kids from the damaging rays of the sun
Stay safe in the sun by applying your favorite sunscreen liberally and often! Enjoy summer.
by Christy Coughlin, Wellness Coach