The sun is out for most of our waking hours, so avoiding sun damage and skin cancer is not always easy. Thankfully, in order to avoid sun damage, you don’t often have to avoid the outdoors outright.
Here’s what we know about skin cancer, plain and simple. It’s caused by ultraviolet rays in sunlight and some artificial lights. UV light causes damage to the skin, which responds by producing more melanin, which gives skin its pigmentation. While we might think of sun-kissed, tanned skin as desirable and beautiful, it’s that exact societal addiction that has contributed to America’s sky-high skin cancer statistics. More than one million people get skin cancer each year in the United States. Sun damage is dangerous, even in controlled doses administered by tanning beds. It’s how your skin reacts. People can tan for years without ill effects, but with age, their likelihood of having skin cancer is far higher than people who don’t tan. Whenever your skin responds to damage, it’s entirely possible for cancer to form. Skin cancer occurs when your skin cells’ DNA is damaged and replicates, forming malignant tumors. Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer spreads rapidly. This rapid spread to internal organs is called metastasization. When cancer spreads to internal organs it becomes a lot harder to treat, and it can prove fatal.
Sunscreen is far and away the best way to prevent sun damage and skin cancer in the future. Sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher is best, as the higher the value the more UV light they can block. Good SPF literally deflects the light that contains harmful ultraviolet radiation and prevents damage to your skin. Even in the winter or fall when the sun is further from the earth and more often behind the clouds, it can still damage your skin. Sometimes, the worst sunburn of your life occurs when you least expect it, in the winter months, because you aren’t even thinking about it. Just by changing your mindset about how sunlight works and reflects, you can better arm yourself against skin cancer. Snow is very reflective, and in New England it’s never in short supply. Reflected sunlight, whether off the surface of snow, water, ice, glass, sand, or concrete still carries ultraviolet rays with it.
Use sunscreen daily, and reapply it every 2 hours or as recommended by your dermatologist. While we’re all susceptible to sun damage, people with fairer skin are more likely to get sunburns and skin cancer. If you have fair skin or a family history of skin cancer, use sunscreen with a higher SPF and look for makeups and other skincare products that contain sunscreen as well.
You can’t just hide from the sun all your life, there are barbeques, sporting events, even walks around the neighborhood that you don’t want to miss out on. But if you can minimize your exposure to sunlight, especially at its most intense, you can protect yourself from skin cancer. Install an awning or umbrella in your backyard or find shade under a tree while at the park. It sounds like common sense, but we often forget the little things when considering how cumulative sun damage can be. Trees and other shade aren’t enough, as reflected light can still harm you, so always wear sunscreen.
The clothes we wear in the summer months pose the biggest challenge to this axiom because they’re often lighter and cover less to put up with the heat. If you can, wear long sleeves and pants whenever possible in the summer. When that’s not possible, try to find clothes that offer sun protection and have their own UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rating. Many sporting goods stores sell a variety of sun-proof clothing for all seasons. While protecting our skin, we might not consider that our eyes can get sunburnt as well. Wear sunglasses whenever possible, especially in high-sun environments where shade isn’t accessible or on reflective surfaces. Sunglasses often advertise their UPF abilities, so seek something with a higher number that still offers visibility. A common plight for skiers and ice-fishers is sunburnt eyes, which is painful and hard to treat.
If you want to protect your skin from sun damage and reduce your likelihood of developing skin cancer, follow these steps. If you want to spot skin cancer or get more tips on preventing sun damage, contact the skincare professionals at Northeast Dermatology Associates today.
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