Skin Cancer ProtectionLast updated: Jun 28, 2013
Research shows that more people in the last 30 years have had skin cancer compared with all other cancers combined.1 Current data suggest that 1 in 5 Americans will get skin cancer.2 These figures emphasize how important it is to protect your skin and overall health from harmful effects of the sun and tanning beds.
Causes of Skin Cancer
Melanoma is associated with intense, short-term exposure to ultra violet (UV) radiation. Nonmelanoma skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are associated with less intense, extended periods of UV exposure. UV exposure also can damage your eyes and cause cataracts.
People of all skin types
can get skin cancer.
Only a dermatologist can tell you if you have skin cancer. For this reason, it is important to get regular skin checkups with a dermatologist regardless of your skin type.
Skin cancer is curable,
especially if it is found and treated early.
Despite high cure rates for skin cancer,
the best way to protect your skin and overall health
is to limit your exposure to the sun.
To minimize your exposure to UV radiation:
- Avoid the sun between 10 AM and 4 PM throughout the year, even on cloudy days when UV rays are strongest
- Stay in the shade
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat to shade your head, ears, face, and neck; sit beneath an umbrella outside
- Wear tightly woven, light-colored, reflective clothing
- Always wear a broad-spectrum, UVA/UVB protective, ≥40-minute water-resistant sunscreen
with a sun protector factor (SPF) ≥30; reapply your sunscreen every 2 hours if you are swimming or sweating
- Wear wrap-around sunglasses that block 100% of UVA/UVB rays
- Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps, which expose you to harmful UV rays3
In addition to protecting yourself from the sun's strong summer rays, you also should protect your eyes and skin throughout the year, including during the winter when UV rays reflect off snow and other surfaces.
Because clouds and ozone do not protect you from UV rays, you can get a sunburn even when it is cloudy. On some days, thin clouds can scatter radiation and make UV even levels higher than when skies are clear.
The Skinny on Sunscreens
Because some sunscreens offer less protection than others, it is important to read their labels. The US Food and Drug Administration now requires all sunscreens to include information about the product's ability to protect you from skin cancer as well as sun burn. The labels also will include details about a sunscreen's effectiveness when you sweat or swim.4 If you find a sunscreen with a warning label that suggests it does not meet US Food and Drug Administration requirements for sunburn and skin cancer protection, choose another product!
More than ever before, there are effective, affordable sunscreen lotions, creams, gels, sprays, and sticks to please almost everyone. People with dry skin can benefit from moisturizer / sunscreen combinations. Unscented, oil-free, hypoallergenic, and noncomedogenic products are best if you tend to break out or have allergic reactions.
There also are makeup / sunscreen combinations for convenience. But cosmetic sunscreen products such as foundation cannot adequately protect your skin from harmful UV rays. If you use a combined sunscreen and foundation, you should apply sunscreen under your foundation, especially if you are planning to be outside for an extended period.
Water-resistant sunscreens are ideal if you like to swim or engage in outdoor sports that make you sweat. Be sure to check your sunscreen label to find out how often you should reapply water-resistant sunscreens.
Your kids might enjoy fruit-scented, fast-blast, nonstinging sprays that make it easy, quick, and fun to apply sunscreen.
You might be at risk for skin cancer
even if you have had only a few sunburns.
It only takes a few severe sunburns during childhood to increase risk of skin cancer later in life. Depending on your risk factors, even 1 severe sunburn can lead to skin cancer.5
Although people of all skin types can get skin cancer, people with light (green or blue) eyes, blond or red hair, and fair skin that easily reddens, freckles, and is sensitive to minimal sun exposure are at highest risk. Exposure to the sun at work and a family history of skin cancer also can increase your odds of getting skin cancer.
Learn more about Mohs micrographic surgery —
the single most effective technique for removing skin cancer.
If your vision has changed recently and you are concerned
about sun damage to your eyes,
call Summit Medical Group Ophthalmology
1. Stern, RS. Prevalence of a history of skin cancer in 2007: results of an incidence-based model. Arch Dermatol. 2010; 146(3):279-282.
2. Robinson, JK. Sun exposure, sun protection, and vitamin D. JAMA. 2005; 294:1541-1543.
3. National Toxicology Program. Report on Carcinogens, Twelfth Edition. US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Toxicology Program. 2011:429-430. http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/ntp/roc/twelfth/profiles/UltravioletRadiationRelatedExposures.pdf. Accessed July 2, 2013.
4. American Academy of Dermatology. FDA requires sunscreen labels to provide better information. http://www.aad.org/spot-skin-cancer/understanding-skin-cancer/how-do-i-prevent-skin-cancer/fda-requires-sunscreen-labels-to-provide-better-information/fda-requires-sunscreen-labels-to-provide-better-information. Accessed July 2, 2013.
5. Lew RA, Sober AJ, Cook N, Marvell R, Fitzpatrick TB. Sun exposure habits in patients with cutaneous melanoma: a case study. J Dermatol Surg Onc. 1983; 12:981-986.