May—finally, we get warmer weather and plenty of sunshine! While it may be tempting to lose those winter layers and bask in the summer sun, be careful. Skin cancer is the most common cancer among Americans and the exposure to ultraviolet radiation is one of the leading causes. But that doesn’t mean we should fear the sun completely! All it takes is a few simple steps to keep you safe while having some fun in the sun.
Skin cancer is a mutation of skin cells which can begin anywhere on the skin. The three most common skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
Melanocyte cells are found in the deeper layers of your skin and create melanin, which gives our skin its color and acts as a natural sunscreen for the deeper layers of skin. However, melanin doesn’t protect all layers of your skin (even if your skin is naturally darker). The topmost layer is very sensitive to ultraviolet radiation which can cause cancer. Because basal cells, squamous cells, and melanocytes sit at the skin’s surface, they are often directly harmed by UV radiation.
Skin Cancer can easily be prevented by following these tips:
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Reapply sunscreen every two hours or after swimming/sweating (even if you use a “waterproof” or “water-resistant” sunscreen.)
- Limit exposure to the sun, especially when it’s strongest (between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.).
- Wear protective clothing. Your shorts and tanks may be comfy in the hot weather, but they expose more of your skin to the sun’s rays. Instead, try wearing lightweight long-sleeved shirts and pants. And always wear sunglasses!
- Skip the tanning bed! Even just one indoor tanning session can increase melanoma risk by 20%! If you really want to look “sun-kissed” this summer, try a self-tanning lotion or spray instead.
- Check your skin! Get familiar with all those birthmarks and freckles to keep track of any changes that may be skin cancer related. To help, the American Academy of Dermatologists offers a “Body Mole Map” you can download here.
Skin Cancer Myths
Like most health topics, there are numerous myths surrounding skin cancer. Luckily, the American Academy for Dermatological Surgery has helped debunk some of these rumors:
- Myth: “I’m not at risk for skin cancer because I don’t spend a lot of time outdoors.”
- The truth here is that even brief sun exposure can increase your risk of skin cancer. UV rays can enter through car windows that lack a tint that specifically protects against them.
- Myth: “Teens aren’t at risk for skin cancer.”
- Melanoma is actually the most common cancer among young adults (ages 25 to 29) and is rapidly increasing among women age 15 to 25.
- Myth: “You only get skin cancer from sunburns. If you tan easily, you aren’t at risk.”
- UV rays damage your skin through exposure to sunlight or tanning beds. Tans are a sign of this damage, as the increase in melanin (the chemical that darkens skin) is the body’s reaction to UV exposure. A tan can significantly increase your risk of skin cancer.
- Myth: “Darker-skinned people are not at risk for skin cancer.”
- While a naturally high amount of melanin can reduce the risk of skin cancer, darker skin doesn’t eliminate your risk entirely. It’s still important to follow sun safety, no matter your skin type.
While May marks the start of summer, it also brings an increased risk of skin cancer as people are spending more time outside. No matter the time of year, it is always important to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with skin cancer, Little Red Door is here to help. Contact us today to hear about our support services and our Door to Wellness programs.