What’s the best thing you can do to decrease your risk of skin cancer, especially in the summer? The number one thing is to protect your skin. How can you do that in the warmer months and still enjoy being outside? Make sure you know how to protect yourself from the sun and get the facts about skin cancer.
10 Skin Cancer Facts
10 Skin Cancer Facts
By Lana Pho, MD
5 minute read
- Anyone can get skin cancer, regardless of race or skin color. If you have a darker skin tone, you’ll have more pigment that helps protect your skin, but you’re not immune from developing skin cancer as a result of ultraviolet (UV) damage.
- Most skin cancer is a result of exposure from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Sunlight is the main source of UV rays, but tanning beds and sun lamps are also a source. Skin cancer starts when the UV rays damage the DNA of skin cells.
- Ultraviolet exposure is strongest between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Seeking shade in those hours or if your shadow appears shorter than you are is advised. Even if it’s cloudy, you’ll want to be cautious. Up to 80 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet rays can pass through the clouds.
- Use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen that’s at least SPF 30. This helps protect you from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Reapply approximately every two hours, even on cloudy days, and especially after swimming or sweating. Use sunscreen daily, even if you’ll be in the shade.
- Not all shade is equally protective from the sun. You can be in the shade and still be exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, particularly the UVB rays — these are considered the most harmful part of sunlight, as they can reach the skin indirectly and bounce back from surfaces like sand or concrete. If you’re on any light-colored surface (water, snow, ice, sand, concrete), the UV radiation will reflect off of it and the harmful rays can be absorbed by your skin.
- Some medications can cause sun sensitivity. Some photosensitive prescription medications can cause your skin to be more susceptible to UV rays. There are even over-the-counter medications that can cause sun sensitivity, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). If you use any of these, be vigilant about protecting your skin.
- Intense athletic training can affect your skin’s immune system. If you’re training for a marathon or any kind of strenuous, long-duration exercise, your immune system may be weakened. This could cause you to become more susceptible to some types of skin cancer, including melanoma. If you run outside, wear a ball cap and use sunscreen, including on your ears and back of neck.
- If you like the look of a tan, try a self-tanner product or spray, along with sunscreen. Avoid tanning beds; they expose you to UV rays, not to mention cause wrinkles and premature aging. Studies have found that tanning beds increase the risk of melanoma, especially in women under 45.
- While skin cancer can develop anywhere on the body, the face is a common area. Direct sun is most likely to hit the face, but any exposed area is susceptible, including the head, ears, lips, and neck, and anywhere the skin is exposed. Interestingly, due to the use of tanning beds, skin cancer on the torso is the most common place for women ages 15-29 to develop melanoma.
- Know the warning signs of melanoma, which include changes in size, shape, or color of a mole or skin lesion, or the appearance of new growth on the skin. If you’ve had more than five sunburns over the course of a lifetime, your risk of melanoma doubles, so be vigilant about checking your skin and talk to a dermatologist if you have concerns.