Skin cancer is one of the easiest avoidable types of cancer, but unfortunately it clashes with a common human pastime activity. Most of the over 3 million cases of skin cancer diagnosed in the US every year are related to intense exposure to ultraviolet rays (UVR) or, basically, standing too much out in the sun. People who also get their skin discolored or saggy aren’t really victims of time as they are of sun exposure; the problem is that every time you catch the damaging rays the damage cumulates over time with little chance of healing.
This doesn’t mean that you should morph into a full time basement dweller and breathe the outside air only at night. There are ways in which you can take advantage of the sun without undertaking any future health problems. It only means keeping in mind some preventive measures to ensure you don’t make constant contact with the damaging rays. Sun protection is the most effective skin cancer prevention strategy.
How to avoid skin cancer in easy steps
Sunburns are one of the primary catalyst in skin cancer, especially in its deadliest form called melanoma. If you suffer over five sunburns during your lifetime it seems that you double the possibility of ending up with one form or another of skin cancer. So if you know you’re vulnerable to sunburns, or see your skin starting to turn red, either cover yourself up or quickly search for a place with shade.
Shadows are your best friend
The sun is at its most powerful in the interval between 10 AM and 4 PM. The ultraviolet rays will cause the most damage between those hours; if you’re caught needing to walk during those intervals, always seek the street side which offers shade. Alternatively, you could find a good spot to sit it out or take a sun umbrella with you. If you really want to do outdoor activities, schedule them either in the early morning or the late afternoon.
Tanning isn’t healthy
There are many people who indulge in the search for the perfect tan, either at the beach or at specialized UV salons. Despite all assurances that tanning machines are safe to use and they could even be a way for you to build vitamin D, the truth is any form of tanning poses dangers, as any kind of exposure to UV rays can’t be completely safe. A rich diet in that vitamin is the healthiest way to obtain it.
The thing is that long exposures of unprotected skin to any type of UV rays raise the chance of mutations appearing in skin cells, some of which may lead to skin cancer. Tanning itself is a way for the body to protect itself, as darker pigments essentially slow down or repel UV rays completely. However, damage has already been done prior to tanning, and particularly newer sunlamps emit UV rays at a much higher intensity than the sun actually does. Basal cell carcinoma, Squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma all have more chances to show up if you try tanning.
Suit up for the conditions
One of the most basic ways of protecting your skin from UV rays is being smart about the way you dress. Even though it is known that darker fabrics heat up faster, if they are tightly woven then you won’t have problems with UV rays – only with sweating faster.
Now, different types of clothing have an UPF rating, which stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor. For example, a shirt with a UPF of 10 will let 1 out of 10 sun rays pass through it; jeans for example have UPF ratings of over 1500 and are quite recommended for when its hot outside. The problem is to cover your skin accordingly; even if just your hands get burned you might be in trouble. You can be sure that you’re getting the best possible protection (and skin cancer prevention) if you buy clothes with an UPF rating of 40 or higher.
The area surrounding the eyes is also very vulnerable and people forget about protecting it most of the times. Wearing front caps or special UV blocking sunglasses is a way to effectively protect that area; rear caps are also great for protecting the back of the neck.
Don’t get the cheapest sunscreen
Using sunscreen in extremely sunny conditions is common sense for most people, but there are a lot even in this day and age who don’t even bother to check exactly how effective their type of sunscreen is.
Every sunscreen brand has a different Sun Protection Factor. Without getting too complicated with the definition, let’s say SPF shows you how many times your skin can resist to burning in intense exposure conditions more than it would without protection. So let’s say that that a sunscreen lotion has an SPF of 10; if it takes half an hour for your skin to get burned with no protection, the sunscreen will protect you for 5 hours. However, they don’t offer 100 percent protection, though most sunscreen lotions offer over 90 percent, with the exact percentage increasing proportionately with the SPF. If you have a condition which makes you or areas on your body extremely vulnerable to sunlight, or if you spend a lot of time outside in the sun during peak hours, higher SPF lotions are recommended for you.
Now, there’s also some more complicated background you should know about. There are two types of ultraviolet rays which reach our skin, ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). The SPF only takes into account protection against UVB rays, which are the short rays. However, UVA rays seem to be more harmful to the skin then UVB rays, even inducing premature aging of the skin. You should check for a product which offers protections against both types; if you want to be sure it’s not just marketing mumbo-jumbo, check the ingredients list for zinc oxide, ecamsule/meroxyl or titanium dioxide – which ensure some degree of UVA protection.
Another thing which people with sensitive skin mostly don’t consider is that even in conditions where your skin doesn’t burn, it is still vulnerable to UV rays, so a coherent skin cancer prevention strategy should take this into account. For example, in winter, the sunlight reflected from the snow actually increases UV intensity. 70 percent of UVRs get through storm clouds, and if you ever go hiking at high altitudes, the fact that the atmosphere becomes thinner and thinner makes UVRs hit you with less filtering.
For the best protection you should apply one ounce on sunscreen to your body before going outside; and even if its SPF will mean you get burned in 6 or 7 hours you should reapply it every two or three hours, as it starts to be less effective over time and is hindered by sweating or swimming.
Don’t let your children out in the sun without protection
Children are even more susceptible to sunburns as they have very small amounts of melanin, a very important pigment which also is responsible for UVR protection. Babies especially can suffer damage from the sun; they need to be extensively covered up in their first six months if you choose to expose them to the sun. You can and should also apply sunscreen to the areas which you cannot cover such as the face.
You need to be careful, as damage done by the sun during childhood is very extensive due to the lack of almost any natural protection; it can make it easier for them to have melanoma develop at later stages in life. The most important thing when it comes to children is to teach them early on about the importance of protecting themselves from the sun as the best skin cancer prevention, so that they won’t grow up underestimating it.
How to check if you have skin cancer
Examine your skin at least once a month
In the unwanted case you do end up with some form of skin cancer, it is very important to detect it in its earliest stages. To be sure you don’t find yourself in an advanced, possibly fatal stage, you should regularly check yourself (at least once per month) for any signs of skin cancer. You should be careful to inspect yourself thoroughly, even in the most hard to see places of your body; skin cancer warning may appear effectively anywhere on your body, even underneath your toes.
You are looking for certain skin changes; now, not every skin change means you have cancer. The most common signs of skin cancer are spots on your bodies that hurt, itch, bleed or erode continuously; add to this open sores which refuse to heal in a fortnight. There are also marks such as moles or brown spots; if you have any you should look out if they change colors, are multicolored or pearly; if they increase their size over time, have a weird form marked by an irregular border or are exceedingly large.
In case you find any of these, be sure to undertake a professional examination right away.
Attend annual skin cancer verification
To be 100% sure you’re healthy, you should have an extensive control scheduled at least once a year with your physician, and ask the same of your child’s pediatrician. We cannot stress the ease with which kids can get extensive skin damage from UV rays.
So it mostly resumes to you being smart about avoiding the sun at its full power. Skin cancer is easily avoidable, as opposed to other forms of the disease which may appear despite any efforts you make not to develop it. It might be uncomfortable to wear long sleeves in the burning sun, but it’s certainly not going to work against you in the long run.