It is important to understand what contributes to the risk of getting skin cancer and how to help prevent yourself, family and friends from developing it. Research has shown that overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the number one cause of skin cancer. UV radiation penetrates the skin and causes cell damage that can potentially develop into skin cancer over time. The major source of UV radiation exposure encountered on a daily basis is transmitted from the sun. Artificial sunlight, produced from tanning bulbs and lamps, also yields harmful UV radiation to the skin.
There are multiple ways to prevent overexposure to UV radiation. Limiting sun exposure, applying appropriate sunscreen often, wearing protective clothing and avoiding tanning bulbs/lamps are ways to keep your skin healthy and lower the risk of developing skin cancer.
Limit Sun Exposure
Your skin is exposed to harmful UV rays from the sun throughout the day. Even on cloudy days, UV rays can penetrate your skin and cause damage. The intensity of the sun’s rays is greatest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., but skin damage can occur from sunup to sundown. If you are outside in the sun, here are things to remember to limit sun exposure:
- Seek out shady areas to avoid direct contact with UV rays
- Surfaces such as water, snow and sand act as reflectors and increase exposure to the sun’s UV rays
- All types of skin can be damaged by sun exposure, regardless of tone or color
If sun exposure is unavoidable, applying the appropriate sunscreen can help protect the skin from harmful UV radiation. Here are some key points to keep in mind when purchasing and applying sunscreen. The sunscreen should:
- Have a SPF (sun protection factor) rating of at least 15
- Be rated to protect against ultraviolet A and B sun rays
- Be waterproof or water-resistant
- Be shaken vigorously to ensure protection agents are distributed evenly
- Be applied generously at least 30 minutes prior to skin being exposed to the sun
- Be reapplied every 1-2 hours, especially after swimming or heavy perspiration
- Be replaced if the expiration date has passed or if it was purchased more than 2 years from the current date
Wear Protective Clothing
Multiple articles of clothing should be worn if sun exposure is unavoidable. Though it is not always comfortable to wear clothing that covers the entire body during the summer months, it is important to wear what can be tolerated and apply sunscreen to areas of the skin that are left unprotected. Here are some characteristics and items of clothing that should be worn to help block out harmful UV rays from the sun:
- Clothing should be tightly woven, dark in color and longer in length
- Clothing should have a fabric rating of at least 50 UPF (ultraviolet protection factor)
- Hats with a broad brim all the way around that provide shaded protection to the scalp, ears and face
- Sunglasses to protect the eyes that block out both UVA and UVB rays
- Footwear that covers the tops of your feet and toes
Children and Sun Exposure
A few serious sunburns early in life can increase the risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, as a teenager or adult. A child’s skin is more susceptible to harm from UV rays. On average, about 23 percent of sun exposure during a person’s lifetime occurs by the age of 18. It is important to protect children with the various methods previously discussed and educate them on how to properly utilize those methods. Here are some basic tips to remember to help prevent UV damage:
- Outside activities should take place before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m.
- Conduct outside activities in shaded areas
- Apply appropriate sunscreen with a SPF of at least 30 (if child is under 6 months old, consult a doctor on the proper sunscreen to use)
- Reapply appropriate sunscreen after activities involving water or heavy perspiration
- Dress your children in tightly woven clothing from head to toe when possible
- Be sure to protect the child’s scalp, ears and face with a broad-brimmed hat
Avoid Tanning Bulbs/Lamps
Tanning beds and tanning lamps are alternatives to sunbathing used to achieve desired darkening of the skin. It has been suggested by the tanning salon industry that the use of tanning bulbs is a safer alternative to tanning under direct sunlight. However, the bulbs used in these machines, like the sun, emit harmful UV rays that damage skin cells and increase the risk of developing skin cancer.
Studies have shown that people who have tanned indoors have about a 75 percent higher risk of developing melanoma, on average, than people who have never had the experience. It is important to remember that artificial sun rays produced by these types of bulbs are dangerous and damaging to the skin. Avoiding them altogether is another way to help reduce your chances of developing skin cancer.
Source: Skin Cancer Foundation