Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer among Americans. Each year, there are over one million cases of skin cancer in the United States. Most forms of skin cancer are caused by inadequate protection or over exposure to the sun. Although it is the most common form of cancer in the United States, it is often treated successfully if diagnosed early enough by a dermatologist or skin care professional. Below are 15 tips to help you and your family avoid sun damage and decrease your chances of developing skin cancer.
- Use Sunscreen
Dermatologists recommend purchasing a sunscreen with at least a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15. Sunscreen is recommended by dermatologists, like Dr. Miller to help prevent skin cancer because the SPF of sunscreen represents its level of protection against sunburn and UV rays. The higher the SPF number, the higher the sun protection. No sunscreen offers full protection.
Sunscreen containing SPF may come in many forms including: creams, lotions, sprays, ointments and gels. Many cosmetics now are available that contain SPF, but do not use them for your sole protection from the sun. Contact your dermatologist if you are unsure of the right sunscreen for you to use is.
- Read the Labels
Always read the labels of sunscreens before purchasing, and be sure to follow directions carefully. Many sunscreens require you to apply to dry skin at least 20-30 minutes before sun exposure so that skin has enough time to absorb the protection. Dermatologists recommend products containing avobenzone, ecamsule, zinc oxide or titanium dioxide because these are likely to help protect you from the sun.
Just because a sunscreen is labeled “Waterproof,” it does not mean that you should not apply after becoming wet. When a sunscreen is labeled “Waterproof” it means that the sunscreen will still offer some protection during those activities in the water. Also, be sure to check the expiration date on your sunscreen. Most products are not effective after 3 years.
- Be Generous and Reapply Often
Around 1 ounce of sunscreen, or a palmful, of sunscreen is recommended for adults to cover the arms, legs, face, and neck. If more areas of the body will be exposed, most dermatologists recommend using more sunscreen than the recommended amount.
Although a sunscreen with a higher SPF will offer higher protection, it does not mean the sunscreen will protect skin for a longer amount of time. Most dermatologists recommend sunscreen of any SPF, be reapplied at least every 2 hours. If swimming or participating in an activity that involves water or sweating, sun block should be applied often.
- Limit Sun Exposure
Dermatologists say that a good way to avoid sun damage is to be selective in the time of day and the length of time you are exposed to the sun. UV rays are most intense during the day of summer months. Dermatologists, like Dr. Miller recommend avoiding or limiting sun exposure during the hours of 10am-4pm. If you must be outside during these times, be sure to check the UV index for your area and plan your protection accordingly. This index is ranked on a scale of 1 to 11 and can typically be found on the internet, television, radio and newspapers. The higher the UV index, the higher your exposure to UV radiation.
Winter months and cloudy days do not protect you from sun damage. UV rays can reach you anytime throughout the year, so be sure to protect your skin. Be especially cautious when outdoors in the sand and snow. The rays may reflect off of the sand or snow and increase the amount of UV radiation you’re exposed to.
- Cover Up
When you are exposed to sunlight, be sure to wear as much protective clothing as possible. The type of fabric you select may even offer more protection. Dermatologists recommend wearing long sleeves and pants, and wearing a dark color versus a light color may offer more protection. If you can see through the fabric, then harmful UV rays may pass through as well.
There is now sun-protective clothing that is designed to absorb UV rays. They are labeled with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF), much like sunscreen, UPF offers more protection the higher the number. Some companies are even developing products like laundry detergent that contain sun protection to use on clothes. Wearing clothing that covers the skin can help prevent sun damage, but it does not offer complete protection.
- Wear A Hat
Wearing a hat when outside can also protect against skin cancer. It can protect your face, neck, scalp, and ears from sun damage, as well as protect your eyes. When selecting a hat, opt for one with a brim that extends 3-4 inches all the way around. These can be found in sporting goods and outdoor supply stores.
Baseball caps are not recommended by dermatologists for sun protection. While the bill shades the face and eyes, the ears and neck are still exposed to sunlight. Straw hats should not be worn for sun protection unless the hat is tightly woven.
- Avoid Tanning Beds
Many people believe that the UVA and UBV radiation given by tanning beds is lower and less harmful than the sun, however studies have shown that exposure to a tanning bed can cause serious skin damage and skin cancer. The rays from tanning beds are often many times more intense than the sun to allow less time to be spent tanning. Plus, most dermatologists believe tanning beds can give you wrinkles! Using a product in a tanning bed that “accelerates” or “extends” your tan does not provide any UV protection. Dermatologists, like Dr. Miller recommend avoiding tanning salons and artificial tanning devices all together.
- Wear Sunglasses
Protecting your eyes from the sun can have many positive effects. Research has shown that eyes exposed to sunlight for extensive periods of time without sunglasses can increase chances of eye diseases. Wearing sunglasses with 99-100% UV protection can help decrease those chances. Darker lenses do not mean the glasses provide UV protection. The protection is actually offered through a clear chemical applied to the lenses. When shopping, if there is no label stating 99% or 100% UVA and UVB protection, assume they do not have the protection you need.
Wearing sunglasses can also protect the skin of the eyelids from sun exposure, where skin damage may occur. The skin of the eyelids is extremely thin, and thus vulnerable to damage. Research shows that the lighter your skin, the higher your age, and the lighter your eye color warrants a higher risk for your eyes to be exposed to the sun.
- Find Shelter
When spending hours outside is inevitable, be sure to find shelter when it is available. When going to the beach, bring an umbrella or cabana. When attending sporting events outside, try to find seating in the shade or under a tree. If you are working outside, take your break in the shade. Dermatologists recommend wearing protective clothing and sun block when you are in the sun.
- Protect Children
Sun damage can have the most devastating effects when it occurs to children. Just one blistering sunburn during childhood doubles the likelihood of developing melanoma later on in life. Children have more sensitive skin and also spend a great deal of time outdoors. Most dermatologists and doctors suggest that newborns not be in the sun all together until at least 6 months of age when sun block may be used. Infants possess very little melanin, the pigment that gives skin color and protection from the sun. Babies should be dressed in lightweight long sleeve clothing, sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat if exposed to the sun. No matter the age, children should be shaded as much as possible between the hours of 10am and 4pm when outside. See your child’s doctor or a dermatologist to determine the right protection.
- Conduct Self-Examinations
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, and it affects more than one million Americans annually. However, skin cancer is also one of the most easily cured diseases by a dermatologist if it is caught early. Conducting self-examination once a month is a good recommendation for preventing skin cancer. It is best to conduct self-examinations in a well lit room in front of a full length mirror. Be sure to schedule regular visits with your family doctor or dermatologist for examinations as well, so that he or she may assist in the monitoring.
- What to Look For
When conducting a self-examination, there are many changes to look for. Be sure to note a skin growth that changes in size, shape and color. It is important to also note changes in texture, thickness or an irregular outline. Moles should not be bigger than ¼” (the size of a pencil eraser). Be sure to have moles examined by a skin care professional or dermatologist if they appear after the age of 21. A spot or sore that bleeds, scabs, itches or hurts should be examined by a dermatologist immediately. If you do see any changes in your skin, do not postpone seeing a skin care professional.
It is important to check every part of your skin for abnormalities. Thoroughly examine the face, neck, ears, chest and belly. These areas are most frequently in contact with the sun. Check both sides of your arms, and the underarms. Look carefully at your hands, feet, nail beds, and in between fingers and toes. You will need to use a mirror to examine your backside, scalp, and legs. Be sure to visit your dermatologist if you notice any changes, no matter how small they seem.
- Keep Track of Medical Records
It is important to keep an organized record of your medical visits and self-examinations for your dermatologist. Self-examinations are easily kept organized by keeping a journal or notebook, writing down any new growths or skin changes. Also, be sure to keep records of your personal medical records from doctor visits. It is especially important when moving or changing doctors. You can possibly avoid costly re-testing when you keep your own records, and it will keep you from having to remember all of your diagnoses. Compiling your medical records will help save you time and money, as well as ensure you are getting the best possible treatment.
- Know Your Skin Type
In order to adequately protect your skin from the sun and help prevent skin cancer, it is important to know your skin type. There are six general skin types that most people fall into. Regardless of skin type, you should see a skin professional or dermatologist regularly. Follow this guide to understand your personal skin protection needs.
Type I- You have very fair skin that always burns and never tans. You have very high chances of skin damage and skin cancer if you are exposed unprotected. You should follow a very strict sun protection regimen, and use a sunscreen with at least SPF 30. Seek shade whenever possible when in the sun. Be sure to monitor skin changes, and visit a dermatologist regularly.
Type II- Your skin almost always burns and rarely tans when in the sun. You may also be at a higher risk for skin damage and skin cancer when exposed unprotected to the sun. Be sure to follow the guidelines for proper skin protection and use an SPF of at least 30. You should seek shade whenever possible when you are outside. Be sure to monitor skin changes, and visit a dermatologist regularly.
Type III- You sometimes burn and tan in the sun. You are still at risk for skin damage and cancer when unprotected, and you should wear at least an SPF of 15. Seek shade between the hours of 10am and 4pm, when the suns UV index is highest. Be sure to monitor skin changes, and visit a dermatologist regularly.
Type IV- You tend to tan easily and are not as likely to burn. You should still use an SPF of 15+ or higher because you are still at risk for skin damage and developing skin cancer. Be sure to seek shade when possible. Be sure to monitor skin changes, and visit a dermatologist regularly.
Type V- You tan easily and rarely burn in the sun, but you still should protect your skin from sun damage and skin cancer. Be sure to wear at least a SPF of 15, and seek shade when possible. Acral lentiginous melanoma, a form of skin cancer, is more common among darker-skinned people. This form of skin cancer is more likely to appear on parts of the body that are not regularly exposed to the sun. You should give yourself regular skin self-examinations, and visit a dermatologist regularly.
Type VI- Although you do not burn, you should still take measures to protect your skin. Like every other skin type, you are still at risk for skin damage and skin cancer, so you should wear a sunscreen with at least SPF 15 when you are exposed to sun. Acral lentiginous melanoma, a form of skin cancer, is more common among darker-skinned people. This form of skin cancer is more likely to appear on parts of the body that are not regularly exposed to the sun. You should give yourself regular skin self-examinations, and visit a dermatologist regularly.
- Visit Your Dermatologist Annually
Visiting a dermatologist for regular examinations is a very important step in caring for your skin. Be sure to monitor any changes in your skin and keep a personal record to bring to your dermatologist. This will help you remember any changes you’ve noted and receive the proper treatment. Skin cancer affects the lives of millions of Americans each year, but when caught early, skin cancer is often treated successfully by a dermatologist or skin care professional.
Causes and Organizations
Below is a list of organizations and causes linked to skin cancer. These organizations are helpful in preventing skin cancer and increasing community awareness of the disease. Below are links for those dealing with skin diseases and skin cancer, as well as ways to help others who have been diagnosed. Many of the below organizations recognize May as National Skin Cancer Awareness Month.
The Skin Cancer Foundation
Celebrating 30 years in 2009, this organization is one of the leaders in skin cancer prevention. They list several guidelines and recommendations for preventing skin cancer. The website explains many skin conditions and treatments, as well as offers opportunities to volunteer for Community Action Programs and donate to the cause.
The Road to Healthy Skin Tour
Organized by the Skin Cancer Foundation, this yearly event is conducted all over the United States. Dermatologists volunteer their time to screen patients for suspicious skin growths. Hundreds of patients every year become aware of suspicious markings on their skin and are recommended for treatment.
Skin Disease Education Foundation
The SDEF is an organization devoted to the development and implementation of high quality Continuing Medical Education (CME) activities. The organization is responsible for educating and updating dermatologists and other health professionals about new technologies and techniques regarding skin conditions and skin diseases.
Children’s Skin Disease Foundation
The CSDF raises money to fund medical research regarding treatment and cures for skin diseases that affect many children. They also organize social and educational events for families and children who are diagnosed with skin diseases. The CSDF provides support and a network for parents whose children share the same disease.
Hosted by the Children’s Skin Disease Foundation, Camp Wonder is a summer camp that is dedicated to children with serious and fatal skin diseases. Campers aged 7-16 may partake in the wide array of activities. Children have the chance to bond with other kids who are also suffering from skin diseases. Thanks to donations, there is no charge for children attending camp!
New Age Skin Research Foundation
The New Age Skin Research Foundation is a national non-profit that works to improve the quality of life for those living with skin conditions. The foundation provides excellent educational resources for the public, conducts research, and provides funding to dedicated scientists.