Most of us enjoy summer, doing all the fun activities that summer offers us. As I advise my patients, however, while planning all those outdoor summer activities, don’t overlook planning ahead for something very important – protecting your skin against cancer. That’s right. Summer sun can be great to spend time in but it can also cause serious skin health risks if we don’t take precautions. I’d like to share with you what I tell my patients about protecting their skin against summer sun and preventing skin cancer.
Your Skin and Summer
When it comes to preventing skin cancer from too much sun exposure, most of my more fair-skinned, blue-eyed, red-haired patients know that they are in the highest risk group for skin cancer and need to protect their skin from too much sun with sunscreen. They also have a good alarm system in place to remind them to put sunscreen on as 15 minutes out on the sun and their nose and cheeks are bright red and on the way to a painful, skin-damaging sunburn!
However, many darker-skinned patients from various ethnic backgrounds are surprised when I tell them that they are also at risk for skin cancer from too much sun exposure.
In fact, new research shows that the rates for melanoma, a deadly skin cancer, have been on the rise for Hispanics, women in particular, over the last several years especially those over age 50. Why? Perhaps because they are simply just failing to protect their darker skin since they’ve always tanned without burning. The truth is, even darker skinned people need to use sunscreen to protect against damaging UV rays but generally can use a lower SPF than more fair-skinned people.
Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in men over 50 in the United States, and the third most common in women aged 29-39. In fact, more than 1 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer every year with basal and squamous cell being the most typical. Another type, melanoma, can be deadly. You may not know that your skin is the largest organ of your body and when cancer strikes, it can spread easily to other organs.
How To Prevent Skin Cancer
According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, about 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers, i.e., basal and squamous cell types develop from over-exposure to ultraviolet light (UV) sun radiation.
Melanoma isn’t always caused by too much sun exposure, but it can help it progress and spread widely. Even though we all need some sun exposure to manufacture Vitamin D, we also need to protect our skin from too much UV rays. Here are some of the ways to take precautions when in direct sunlight.
- Sunscreen: Certain ingredients in sunscreens, oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate, have been under scrutiny lately as possibly causing more skin problems than their worth. However, when they are used as directed, sunscreens have proven safe and effective. I recommend wearing at least an SPF 15 or higher for the best protection. Be sure to re-apply every 2 hours, or more, if you are sweating or swimming. *See SPFs below.
- Cover-Up Clothing: Light/white colored clothing helps deflect the sun from you whereas darker colors absorb and draw it to you.
- Seek Shade: Although you’d like to spend some of your time in the sun during your leisure activities, time your exposure and take frequent shade rests.
- UV block sunglasses: Yes, even your eyes can be damaged by too much sunlight and may lead to developing cataracts and/or dry eye syndromes.
- Wear hats: Although you may feel uncomfortable or hot wearing a large brimmed hat or cap out in the sun, even a simple band with a visor can help keep damaging UV rays out of your face and keep your facial skin looking younger longer.
Choosing The Right SPF Sunscreen Level
Skin types and colors range from very fair to very dark, but all should use some level of sunscreen protection. Sunscreen Protection Factor, or SPF levels, in sunscreens range all the way from 2 to 60, depending on your skin type and how easily your skin burns in the sun.
The number rating tells you how long you can stay in the sun without burning. For example, SPF 30 tells you that you can be in the sun 30 times longer without burning. From the charts below, find your skin type and use the corresponding SPF level sunscreen.
Summer is one of the best times of the year and, like the song says, “the livin’ is easy”. It’s time for fun and relaxation and good times with friends and family. Just be sure to protect the health of your skin, and you, so you can enjoy many great summers to come!
Jay Brachfeld, M.D.
Skin Cancer Foundation, http://www.skincancer.org/
Summer Sun Problems, http://www.saludtoday.com/blog/?p=1153
photo credit: rapidwealthsystem.blogspot.com