Skin Cancer Prevention

The most common cancer in the US

Current studies estimate 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer within their lifetime. Receiving too much exposure to sunlight is usually the cause for skin cancer and the increasing rates of diagnosis.  Sunlight contains both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.  These rays are what accelerate the skin aging process, which in turn may cause skin cancer.  It is important to protect your skin from both types of UV rays.

Protect yourself

Sun protection involves seeking shade, wearing sun protective clothing and wearing sunscreen. Using a sunscreen that is broad-spectrum, meaning it protects against UVA and UVB, is considered the best protection.  Your sunscreeen should also be water-resistant and have a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Apply your sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going outside and reapply every 2 hours if you are outside for prolonged periods of time to ensure proper coverage and protection.

Wearing sunscreen is one way to prevent skin cancer, but there are many other options that can also keep you protected.  The sun is the hottest between 10 a.m and 4 p.m., so make sure you seek shade during these hours. If you have to be outside in peak hours, take necessary steps to keep yourself protected.

  • Wear a broad-rimmed hat
  • UV blocking sunglasses and clothing
  • Use an appropriate amount of sunscreen for all exposed areas of your body.  A rule of thumb is one ounce, or enough to fill a shot glass.  Make sure to reapply every two hours and immediately after swimming

Most sunscreens have an expiration date indicating when the sunscreen is no longer effective. If no expiration date is listed, the product will be good for 3 years after the purchase date.  As soon as the product has been purchased, write the date on the bottle to make sure it is not used after the 3 year mark.  If there has been any change in color, or consistency, the sunscreen may or may not be effective and should be thrown away. Keep products out of the sun and away from high temperatures, as this can affect its efficacy.

Educate yourself

The daily use of sunscreen has the ability to cut the incidence of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, in half.  It is well known how important sunscreen is to our health, but other factors can play a part in skin cancer prevention as well.

Studies have proven there is a high correlation between tanning bed use and skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology and medical professionals have strongly advised against tanning beds for many years. Tanning beds emit UVA and UVB rays, both of which cause damage to the skin.  They can produce UV levels of up to 100 times what you normally get from the sun. The risk of developing melanoma increases by 87% for those individuals who start using tanning beds before the age of 35.  Unfortunately, younger individuals like adolescents and teenagers cannot see the damage done by tanning beds since this process takes repeated exposure. Young adults often focus on the immediate gratification of having a tan now instead of considering future risks and consequences. A tan is a response to injury; our skin cells respond to damage from UV rays by producing more pigment which gives skin a tanned look.

If you regularly visit a tanning bed, stop immediately and visit a dermatologist for a full skin exam. If you have an unusual looking mole, scaly patch or spot on the skin that will not heal, seek physician attention as skin cancers are not always obvious.

General sunburn safety

It only takes about 15 minutes for the sun to damage unprotected skin. You may not notice it immediately, but the damage is there. If you do get sunburned, your skin may become warm, red, and blistered (in extreme cases). The area may be painful and feel itchy at times. If the pain is too much, the CDC recommends aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen. A cool shower or bath may also relieve the pain. Aloe cream can soothe and moisturize the skin after the bath. Since sunburns can dehydrate your body, increase your fluid intake for the next two to three days.

Sun safety for your little one

Young mother applying sunblock cream on her baby

Keep your baby in the shade. Shade is the best way to shield your baby from the sun, especially if he or she is younger than 6 months old. Keep your baby in the shade as much as possible, and if you can’t find shade, create your own using an umbrella, canopy or the hood of a stroller.

Dress your baby in sun-protective clothing, such as a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt and pants. In addition, make sure your baby always wears a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection.

Minimize sunscreen use on children younger than 6 months old, but use it when needed. If shade and adequate clothing are not available, parents and caretakers may apply a minimal amount of broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to their children’s skin. Sunscreens containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide are less likely to irritate a baby’s sensitive skin. Remember to reapply your child’s sunscreen every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating, as there is no such thing as “waterproof” sunscreen.

Stay safe on hot days. In addition to sun protection, stay safe on hot days by making sure your baby does not get overheated and drinks plenty of fluids. If your baby is fussy, crying excessively or has redness on any exposed skin, take him or her indoors immediately.
(American Academy of Dermatology)

Where Does Your Skin Fit In?

The Fitzpatrick Skin Type is a skin classification system first developed in 1975 by Thomas Fitzpatrick, MD, of Harvard Medical School. His skin classification system and its adaptations are familiar to dermatologists.

Take the Skin Type Quiz, and search for your skin type for advice based on how your skin type may react to the sun.