With the weather warming up it and all of us spending more time outside, it seems only appropriate to remind ourselves that May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and it’s time to really get serious about sun safety! We’ve collected some must-have knowledge and tips to help you protect the skin you’re in!
UVA and UVB Rays
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 95 percent of the UV radiation that reaches the Earth’s surface comes from UVA rays. UVA is the “dominant tanning ray.” It plays a big role in skin aging and damage to the cells in the basal layer of the skin, meaning it contributes to and even initiates skin cancers. While not as strong as their UVB ray counterparts, they are present during all daylight hours, all year long and can penetrate on even the cloudiest of days.
UVB is the primary cause of sunburn and plays a major part in the development of skin cancers. “UVB rays can burn and damage your skin year-round, especially at high altitudes and on reflective surfaces such as snow or ice, which bounce back up to 80 percent of the rays so that they hit the skin twice.”
Tanning: The Dirty Truth
While a lot of us love the look of a tan, what we don’t love is the damage even one tan causes our skin. Whether indoors or outdoors, tanning is a result of an injury to the skin’s DNA. Skin cells darken in an “attempt to prevent further DNA damage.” Think of getting a burn on an iron: the skin darkens in that spot and when we tan it’s like taking an iron to our entire body.
People who use indoor tanning are more likely to develop squamous and basal cell carcinoma because the sunlamps used in booths emit 12 times the amount of UVA as the sun. Teens who tan indoors increase their risk of melanoma by up to 75 percent.
Melanoma: The ABCDEs of Early Detection
Melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, accounts for 75 percent of deaths from skin cancer each year, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. However, melanoma rarely strikes without warning signs. Using the first five letters of the alphabet, the Skin Cancer Foundation devised an easy way to guide us through the early warning signs of the cancer.
A – Asymmetry (if you draw a line through the mole the two sides won’t match)
B – Border (early melanoma moles have uneven edges)
C – Color (a variety of colors or shades of brown, tan or black is a warning sign; melanoma can also turn red, blue or some other abnormal color)
D – Diameter (melanoma is usually larger in diameter than the size of a pencil’s eraser – ¼ inch – but they may also be smaller when first detected)
E – Evolving (any change in size, shape, color, elevation or other trait – new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting – is a major red flag)
Am I At Risk?
If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you may have a higher risk of developing melanoma:
1. Is there a history of melanoma in your family?
2. Do you have light eyes and skin?
3. Have you had one or more severe sunburns?
4. Do you frequently spend time in the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.?
5. Do you live in the southwestern U.S.?
6. Do you have many freckles?
7. Have you been exposed to UV radiation from tanning beds?
Lower Your Risk: Prevention and Protection
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “melanoma may be triggered by intense, intermittent sun exposure.” In the past 20 years, the number of melanoma cases has nearly tripled thanks to more time enjoying outdoor activities with less clothing and less sun protection, as well as the millions of Americans who visit indoor tanning salons regularly. Protect yourself! When you are in the sun, wear appropriate clothing, cover your head with a wide-brimmed hat (the head and neck are some of the most commonly overlooked places), wear sunglasses and ALWAYS put on sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater. Limit your sun exposure between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and by all means, forever avoid tanning beds. If a dark tan is a must, invest in self-tanners or go for a spray tan. Also, new research has shown that Vitamin A may lower the risk of melanoma, so don’t shy away from taking a multivitamin!
Never Leave Home without SPF
FDA regulations for sunscreens are making it easier to get the protection you need:
- Look for “broad-spectrum” protection. Sunscreens must protect equally against two kinds of the sun’s radiation, UVB and UVA, to earn the coveted designation of offering “broad-spectrum” protection.
- Waterproof and sweatproof don’t mean anything. Sunscreen manufacturers cannot claim their products are waterproof or sweatproof because these claims are false.
- Use sunscreens with SPF 15 or higher. Only sunscreens that have a sun protection factor, or SPF, of 15 or higher, will be allowed to say that they help prevent sunburn and reduce the risks of skin cancer and early skin aging. However we’d really recommend using at least SPF 30.
For even more great information about sun safety – check out our printable guide to SPF here!
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