What’s your favorite season? Summer is one of the most popular answers to that question – and for good reason! What better time to enjoy the warm weather and sunshine? As much as you may love the sun, however, it can be responsible for a serious health risk – skin cancer. Keep reading to learn more about this potential health danger.
When asked which season of the year is a favorite, summer is likely a popular answer. If you live in the northern regions of the country, summer is the prime time to get out and enjoy the warm weather and sunshine – heading to the lake or ocean to enjoy water sports, hitting the softball field or taking time for picnics in the park. And, if you live in the southern part of the U.S., you get to enjoy somewhat of a “perpetual summer” and take part in these leisurely activities almost year-round.
While sunshine is a great mood-booster and often an excuse to leave the office early, it can also serve as a health threat – skin cancer. In fact, southern and southwestern areas of the United States have more than twice as many skin cancer cases each year as the northern parts of the country – and the ever-present sun is to blame.
Who is At Risk?
The threat of skin cancer resulting from overexposure to sunlight can accumulate from childhood, so even if you aren’t a regular beach-bum now, the damage done in the earlier stages of your life might still put you at risk.
Those most at risk are people with light hair and eyes, a fair complexion, a poor ability to tan, and a tendency to burn easily. Individuals with darker complexions have more melanin pigmentation in their skin and are less susceptible.
What are the Warning Signs?
Each and every one of us can be proactive in catching the early stages of skin cancer. The earlier skin cancer is caught generally indicates a greater chance of recovery. You should check your body regularly for these typical warning signs:
• A sore or scar (especially a scar from a burn) that doesn’t heal within six weeks.
• Moles or lumps that bleed, grow, have irregular edges or change their shape.
• Moles or lumps that are very hard to the touch.
• Moles or lumps that looks splotchy, brown or black.
• Moles or lumps that itch or hurt.
Most skin cancers are on the face, backs of hands, tops of ears, and on the scalp. However, the cancer can manifest anywhere on the body so make sure you check yourself from head to toe.
Prevention is Key
Even if you’re not fair-skinned or don’t burn easily, you should take the following precautions when heading out into the sun:
• Try to stay out of the sun as much as possible between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest.
• Avoid tanning beds as the UV rays are more concentrated than those of the natural sun.
• Protect your skin with tightly-woven clothing and a hat. For even greater protection, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants. Sunglasses will protect your eyes and eyelids from damage.
• Some medications create sensitivity to sunlight. Check with your doctor to see if any of your medications fall into this category. If so, try changing to a different medication. If that’s not an option, be extra diligent in your precautions.
• Be aware of your surroundings. The beach isn’t the only place you can get sunburned. Reflective surfaces such as snow, water, cement and sand can bounce sunrays onto your skin, even if you’re sitting in the shade.
• Don’t depend on the clouds to protect you. The suns UV rays can penetrate haze, light clouds and fog, as well as water and lightweight clothing.
Perhaps the most proactive measure you can take to protect your skin from the sun is to wear sunscreen. Make sure you choose one that has the proper protection rating for your skin type. Sunscreens are rated according to their SPF, or sun protection factor. The higher the number, the more protection it offers. A sunscreen with an SPF of 15 blocks out 98 percent of the sun’s rays.
Make sure your sunscreen also blocks out both UVA and UVB light. And, if you’re looking for protection while in the water, be aware of the difference between “water-resistant” sunscreen and “waterproof” sunscreen. Water-resistant means that it will withstand 40 minutes of immersion in water. Waterproof sunscreen will withstand 80 minutes of immersion.
You should apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before heading outdoors to allow the skin time to absorb its protective ingredients. Remember to re-apply sunscreen every 60-90 minutes.
And don’t forget the little areas! Use an SPF-rated lip balm on your lips, lip-line, nose and ears, as these are the most common spots for basal-cell carcinoma.
If you’re a woman concerned about everyday exposure to the sun, choose both a moisturizer and foundation with SPF protection. Almost all of the cosmetic brands today have an SPF rating.
Next week we’ll explain how certain nutrients, such as Vitamin A and selenium, can also prevent and protect against skin cancer.