Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, yet the most preventable. So why are 3.5 million cases still diagnosed annually? Perhaps young people believe they are immune from the ravages of the sun, or people living in cold climates feel they are under exposed. Whatever the reason, it’s time to reform and adopt safe sun exposure habits to prevent skin cancers including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma or the potentially deadly melanoma.
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and in its honor, BITB interviewed dermatologists across the country to learn firsthand of their tips for prevention, protection and detection.
Seek the Shade
One of the easiest ways to prevent sun damage is to stay clear of the sun when it is strongest. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that we “seek the shade” between 10am and 4pm. Not always such an easy pursuit especially when on vacation or just enjoying summer activities.
- “Try to sit in the shade; if you are in a boat, find an awning. Use an umbrella when you are outside. And always wear a (fashionable!) sun hat,” stated New York City dermatologist Lisa Airan, wh0 see patients at her private practice in New York City.
- “The worst hours to be on the beach or golf course are between 10am and 4pm,” stated Port St Lucie, FL dermatologist Gary Marder, who practices in Port Saint Lucie and Okeechobee, Florida.
Apply Sunscreen Regularly
In addition to seeking shade, sunscreen is a first line defense against burning and must be reapplied after swimming and exercise to remain effective. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen of at least 15 SPF for everyday use and SPF 30 or higher for extended outdoor activity.
- “I always tell my patients, ‘do what you can to be sun smart, but you have to live your life.’ Put sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher – broad spectrum UVA and UVB coverage – on 30 minutes before outdoor activity. And remember to reapply. The number one reason that people have sun issues is that they fail to reapply every two hours,” stated dermatologist Michael Kaminer in Chestnut Hill, MA.
- “Make sure sunscreen has both UVB and UVA protection. No all do. The SPF is a measurement of UVB protection, which should be at least 30. SPF does not measure UVA. The sunscreen package must say ‘UVA protection provided,’” stated Dr. Marder.
Protect Your Skin
From antioxidants to t-shirts (they actually do help), additional barriers will help protect your skin from the sun.
- “Instead of avoiding the sun, we should start thinking about UV toxicity. That means applying topical antioxidants that have proven benefits like Idebenone, CE ferrulic, coffee berry and wearing sun protective clothing,” stated New Haven, CT dermatologist Lisa Donofrio.
- “Windows (and sunglasses) do protect from UVB, but they do not block UVA. If you have a history of skin cancer, you can get an Rx from your doctor for heavy tinted windows, which will greatly shield your skin while driving, stated Dr. Marder.
Which Sunscreens Are Best
With new FDA regulations in effect this summer regarding sunscreens, we will be encouraged to buy products with both UVA and UVB protection. Only products that have been tested for a minimum standard of UVA protection can claim to be “broad spectrum.”
- “I prefer non-chemical sunscreens with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide that provide broad spectrum, UVA and UVB protection, over chemical ones because of potential skin sensitivity such as allergies and irritation. My fave is SKIN IS IN Antioxidant SPF 30,” stated dermatologist Tina Alster of Washington, D.C.
- “My recommendation is La-Roche Posay’s Anthelios 60 Melt-In Sunscreen Milk because it has a high SPF number, provides great protection and is not too greasy,” stated Dr. Airan.
You’ve Overexposed, Now What?
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns at any point in life. If you are suffering a burn, try to mitigate the damage with these suggestions.
- “If you get caught in the sun and know you are going to burn you can take 800 mg of ibuprofen, which will not only prevent the burn but prevent some of the damage….Also, it’s a fallacy that you should stop using retinoids if you are going in the sun. If you get too much sun, up your retinoids application and add a prescription topical steroid to decrease the irritation and prevent sunburn inflammation from wreaking havoc,” stated Dr. Donofrio.
Know the Signs of Suspicious Lesions
While self-exams are no replacement for annual skin exams performed by a doctor, they offer the best chance of detecting early warning signs of skin cancer.
- “If you see something new, go to your dermatologist. If you see something new AND dark, run to your dermatologist. Also, examine your spouse/partner. First of all, it can be fun, and second, it is proven to be the best way to identify new or changing lesions,” stated Dr. Kaminer.
- “To perform a self-examination, use your ABCDE’s,” stated Dr. Alster.
A=ASYMMETRY (irregular shape)
B=BORDER (should be smooth, not notched)
C=COLOR (should be uniform or one color, not an array of colors)
D=DIAMETER (should be smaller than the size of a pencil eraser)
E=EVOLVING (any lesion that is changing should be brought to the attention of a dermatologist)
Summer is nearly here and you’ll want to enjoy all the swimming, boating, golfing and playing it has to offer. Just take a few precautions and make sure you are sun safe. Remember to apply one full ounce of sunscreen to your entire body before going outside. In this case, an ounce of protection really is worth a pound of cure.