Here comes the Sun
Summer, Sweet Summer: Enjoy your summer but please protect your skin!
words | Dr. Karen Prentice D.O. F.A.A.P., medical expert
Oh summertime…..beach towels, flip flops, the smell of freshly mown grass, the faint hint of sunscreen and chlorine that lingers on your skin, and reading a good book just for fun. These are just a few of my favorite summer memories. And yes, I do enjoy that sun-kissed glow on my skin, but hello, we need to talk. I know many of you think that being tan makes you look thinner or makes you more beautiful. Many of you sunbathe for hours or go to tanning beds. Unless you want to look like a Shar-Pei (I call them wrinkle dogs) by the time you are forty, you need to stop now. Worse than wrinkles is the very real threat of skin cancer.
Did you know, according to the National Cancer Institute:
- Melanoma (the deadly kind of skin cancer) has tripled in the U.S. over the last thirty years.
- The incidence of melanoma in teens is increasing by 2.9% every year.
- In 2016, 76,000 Americans were told they had melanoma.
- In 2016, 10,000 Americans died of melanoma.
- The American Cancer Society estimates over two million Americans get skin cancer each year, usually the nonfatal forms--basal and squamous cell cancer.
- Children and teens who get five or more sunburns or have intermittent intense exposure to the sun are twice as likely to get melanoma.
- Melanoma risk greatly increases for those who start indoor tanning before twenty-five years old and have more than ten indoor tanning sessions in a lifetime.
- Squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma increases by more than 60% for those who use tanning beds in college and/or high school.
- In 2009, the World Health Organization declared that the ultraviolet light emitted from tanning beds is a carcinogen
Enough stats, let’s break it down. Skin cancer occurs when we have repeated damage from ultraviolet light that naturally occurs in sunlight and in tanning beds. The ultraviolet light damages our DNA and starts changes that result in malignant (cancerous) transformation. Melanoma seems to happen more often in people who have repeated intense exposure to sunlight. Studies show that children and teens with more sunburns or intense exposure to the sun have twice the chance of getting melanoma. Most melanoma seems to show up on the backs of men and the legs of women.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of nonfatal cancer, but it’s no picnic. This type of cancer is invasive, aggressive and destroys the skin and structures below the skin including bone. Most basal cell cancers appear on the face and head. The most important risk factor is exposure to ultraviolet radiation in sunlight or tanning beds especially in childhood or teen years.
Squamous cell cancer is also caused by exposure to ultraviolet light both in sunlight and tanning beds. Squamous cell carcinoma is caused by day to day cumulative exposure to the sun. This type of skin cancer shows up more on the face, tops of hands, and forearms and can be disfiguring and sometimes deadly if ignored. According to a study published in The Archives of Dermatology, both squamous and basal cell carcinoma can be reduced by almost 80% with aggressive sun protection before eighteen years old. Is anyone seeing a pattern here? Young people really need to protect their skin!!! Not that the rest of us shouldn’t.
What about tanning beds? Have you ever heard this one: “Before you go on vacation, get a base tan at a tanning bed, then you won’t burn.” This is a deadly misconception. A recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute looked at people who use tanning beds with and without a history of sunburn. Among those people who said they had no lifetime history of sunburn, melanoma was four times more common with those who used tanning beds. Recent surveys have found that among eighteen to twenty-five year olds, nearly one-third of white women admit to using tanning beds in the last year. Yikes!
Here’s what you can do to prevent skin cancer:
1. Never use tanning beds! Surely, I’ve convinced you of this!
2. Avoid midday sun exposure when the sun is most intense, usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
3. Seek shade when possible.
4. Wear hats, sunglasses, and photo protective clothing with a UPF rating 25 or more.
5. Apply sunscreen lip balm SPF 30.
6. Use sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 or higher that is broad spectrum meaning it has UVA and UVB protection.
7. Apply sunscreen fifteen to thirty minutes before you go out and reapply every one to two hours or after swimming.
8. Use enough sunscreen. A handy guideline is the teaspoon rule:
- 1 teaspoon for your face and neck
- 2 teaspoons for your front and back
- 1 teaspoon to each arm
- 2 teaspoons to each leg
9. Avoid sunscreen sprays. Sprays may be quick, but you risk inhaling unhealthy chemicals and you may miss protecting areas of your skin which will then increase your skin cancer risk.
10. Avoid retinyl palmitate, a chemical in some sunscreens which when tested on animals caused skin tumors.
11. Avoid oxybenzone, a chemical in some sunscreens that can cause rashes and disrupt hormones in your body.
12. Pick a sunscreen with zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, and/or avobenzone.
The moral of this story is that you don’t need to be tan to be beautiful and in fact, going for that tan can be deadly. I leave you with a quote from Lady Gaga, “I’m beautiful in my way ‘cause God makes no mistakes.”