Skin cancer prevention: The ultimate guide to sun protection
May 4, 2023
Who doesn’t love basking in the sun on one of the first warm days of spring? Or going all in and spending a day poolside or at the beach in the summer. Especially those who live in the northern climates and have endured months of blustery weather and snow.
We’re boosting our mood and helping our vitamin D levels, which is good for our bones! But that warm feeling on our skin has some downsides, too. (Doesn’t everything?) Soaking up those rays is also putting us at risk for the most common type of cancer in the world.
That’s right, skin cancer is a major concern for those of us who spend a lot of time in the sun because a majority of skin cancers are caused by ultraviolet rays, such as from the sun or tanning beds. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation.
With such prevalence, it’s a good idea to be well versed in the signs of skin cancer to watch for and strategies for skin cancer prevention so you can protect yourself and enjoy those sunbeams safely.
There’s an old adage when it comes to many things health related: Prevention is the best medicine. When it comes to what causes skin cancer, that phrase couldn’t be more true.
Sure, family history, exposure to chemicals, radiation treatments, age and gender can increase your risks of developing different types of skin cancer. “But the fact is that most skin cancers are caused by over exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun or other sources,” said Dr. Deborah S. Sarnoff, president of The Skin Cancer Foundation.
Luckily, there are several sun safety strategies for reducing that exposure and the associated concerns about skin damage or skin cancer. They include opting for safer tanning options such as self-tanning waters or lotions, sun protective clothing and wearing sunscreen each and every day.
The key ingredients in most sunscreens are mineral-based or chemical-based. The mineral-based ingredients physically block and scatter the sun’s rays before they reach your skin. The chemical ingredients absorb the rays before they can damage your skin.
How much they protect your skin is determined by the SPF level, or the sun protection factor. In general, this number tells you how long it would take the sun’s rays to make your skin red when you are using the sunscreen, compared to how long it would take to redden your skin if you were not wearing it.
For example, if you rub sunscreen with an SPF 30 into your skin, it would take about 30 times longer for your skin to burn than if you were not wearing any protection. But the intensity of the sun exposure matters. People can burn more quickly at different times of day.
No matter what SPF level you choose, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours—more if you’re sweating or swimming. Regular daily use of sunscreen with SPF 15 can reduce your risk of developing certain skin cancers by 40-50%.
We just talked about SPF, but when it comes to clothing and sun protection, you need look for the UPF—the ultraviolet protection factor. The UPF is a measure of the amount of UV rays the clothing allows through to your skin.
Sun protective clothing is made with a tighter weave to keep more of the harmful rays out. A high UPF number on the label means less rays are getting through to your skin. Clothing rated UPF 50 blocks 98% of the sun’s rays. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends clothing made with fabric that is a minimum of UPF 30. Sunscreen should also be used on any uncovered areas.
Need help choosing a sunscreen or sun protective clothing? Consider looking for The Skin Cancer Foundation Seal of Recommendation. This badge, found on packaging, labels and tags, means that the product meets or exceeds the Foundation's standards for safe and effective sun protection.
“The Seal of Recommendation is the Foundation's oldest education program,” Dr. Sarnoff said. “The Seal program was developed to empower people to take a proactive approach to skin cancer prevention.”
Fabric must have a minimum UPF of 30 to qualify for the Seal of Recommendation. For sunscreen, there is a Daily Use Seal of Recommendation (minimum of SPF 15) and an Active Seal of Recommendation (minimum of SPF 30).
Four Artistry Skin Nutrition™ face lotions and creams with SPF 30 have earned the Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation: the Hydrating Day Lotion, Balancing Matte Day Lotion, Renewing Reactivation Day Lotion and Renewing Reactivation Day Cream.
Amway, maker of Artistry™ skin care products, recently joined The Skin Care Foundation’s International Corporate Council, which helps support the Foundation’s work to empower people to take a proactive approach to daily sun protection and the early detection and treatment of skin cancer.
“Joining The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Corporate Council supports Amway’s mission of helping people live better, healthier lives,” said Peter Strydom, Amway’s global chief marketing officer. “Healthy beauty begins with healthy skin. Sun protection is an important step in a daily skincare routine because when skin is healthy, it is better able to protect and repair itself—to look and feel its radiant best, now and in the future.”
All these sun safety measures are great steps in the direction of preventing skin cancer, but they’re also preventing us from getting those bronze tones some of us crave. Good news: There are plenty of ways to get that golden glow without putting your skin at risk. (A tan, after all, is a sign of skin damage caused by the sun.)
There are several options to choose from, including professional spray tans, bronzers and self-tanning waters, like Artistry Studio™ Bottle of Sunshine Self-Tanning Water. Bottle of Sunshine provides a natural, bronzed glow to your face and body with no orange tones.
And since it is initially sprayed or misted on before blending unlike like lotions or mousses, the potential for streaking is greatly diminished. It’s also non-sticky, fast drying and has zero transfer. After application, the results will appear within a few hours and last a couple of days. No UV rays involved!
No matter how many precautions you take, your skin will still be exposed to the sun at some point. So it’s good to know what the signs of skin cancer look like. Even though it’s a serious condition, most types of skin cancer are highly treatable if detected in the early stages. And unlike other cancers that can grow undetected inside our bodies, the signs of skin cancer appear on the outside.
In general The Skin Cancer Foundation focuses on three things when it comes to warning signs: Anything that is new, changing or unusual.
One of those “new, changing or unusual” things you may discover in your skin cancer screening is something called actinic keratosis. They are considered precancerous and can appear on skin damaged from extended exposure to the sun or other ultraviolet rays.
The spots are typically red, pink or brown as well as rough or scaley and appear on areas exposed to the sun, including face, lips, ears, scalp, arms and hands. It’s important to get them treated to prevent them from evolving into full cancer.
So now that you know what signs of skin cancer to look for, how about some advice on how to look for them? Giving your entire body a thorough, up-close examination is likely not high on anybody’s list of fun, but it can make a big difference in early detection of various types of skin cancer and help ensure a good outcome.
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends giving yourself a detailed once-over at least once a month and having a professional skin cancer screening at least once a year. For your self-examination, plan to methodically check every square inch of skin surface with the assistance of a full length mirror and a hand mirror so you don’t have to twist yourself into a pretzel. A trusted friend or family member could help, too!
That includes your face, scalp, hands, arms, torso (front and back, upper and lower), legs and feet, including the bottoms. Remember, signs of skin cancer are not limited to areas of the skin exposed to the sun, so it’s important to be thorough and inspect all skin surfaces. Pro tip: A hairdryer can blow your hair out of the way to expose your scalp.
If you find anything suspect, take notes to share with your doctor. Even better, take pictures so you can document any changes over time.
Between taking precautions when you go out into the sun, opting for safer ways to get your golden glow and learning what signs of skin cancer to look for, you should now be armed with all the information you need to safely enjoy your day in the sun.
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