Summertime is here! With 4th of July and the peak of the summertime heat and sun rays rapidly approaching, it's important that you protect yourself while out enjoying the weather with your friends and family.
For most people a day out in the sun sounds like an ideal way to spend a beautiful summer day. Unfortunately, too much sun can be a dangerous thing. Skin cancer is a real threat that can only be exacerbated by lengthy exposure to UV rays. The damage can accumulate over the years, and the the threat can increase over time - the more time you spend in the sun, the higher your risk of skin cancer.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways you can use to reduce your risk and ensure that your time outside is nothing but pleasant. Please see below to learn more about the dangers of the sun, the UV index, skin cancer facts and how to reduce your risk of skin cancer
Dangers of the Sun
Every year, over 75,000 cases of skin cancer are reported in the US, and almost 10,000 people die from melanoma annually.
Even with these statistics, however, many people still don’t take the necessary precautions to stay safe during the hot months, with young women being the most susceptible. While you may think that tanning salons or other methods of getting “sun-kissed” skin may be better for you, the fact is that the danger lurks within UV rays, which can come from both the sun and other synthetic sources. To better understand this threat, we have to pay attention to the UV index.
What is the UV Index?
The light that comes from the sun contains ultraviolet (UV) radiation. In small doses, sunlight does the body good by regulating our internal circadian systems, as well as providing ample vitamin D. However; it is this radiation that makes prolonged exposure so much worse. UV rays are classified into three categories.
- UVA: this is the least harmful and most common form of UV radiation, but it can still cause skin damage in the form of wrinkles and dark spots.
- UVB: this is the radiation that you should worry most about as it is what can cause sunburns and skin cancer.
- UVC: fortunately, this type of radiation is mostly blocked by the ozone layer, but it can still seep through if you get far more sunlight than you should. UVC rays can alter your DNA, which can have irrevocable effects on your body.
The UV Index is a guide put out by the World Health Organization that shows how dangerous the sun is at any given time. It’s a 1-10 rating system, with one being the lowest level and ten (or more) being the highest.
As such, if you monitor the UV index to see where the sun sits on the chart on any given day you can determine what level of protection you will need. On days with 1-2 levels of UV radiation, you should be fine to go outside, as long as you aren’t spending long hours in the sun. If it gets above 5-6, though, sunscreen is a must, and you should limit your time outside. Finally, avoid the sun if the index is showing levels of 9-10 or higher.
If you don’t have ready access to the index, then a good way to measure the amount of sun exposure is to look at your shadow. If it’s longer than you on the ground, then the level should be relatively low. If it’s short or nonexistent, then you are getting much more UV radiation, and you should cover up ASAP.
Skin Cancer Facts
We’ve already touched a bit on melanoma, but the fact is that there are several different varieties of skin cancer that can develop from sun exposure. Here are some stats to help you understand the situation better.
- Annually, there are around five million skin cancer (non-melanoma) diagnoses
- Skin cancer is far more frequent than most other forms of the disease, outpacing breast, prostate, and lung cancer, combined
- The rate of skin cancer is so high that almost twenty percent (one in five) of the population will get diagnosed with it
- The most common skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma (BCC), and it affects older people (over 55) more frequently than younger individuals
- 90 percent of skin cancer is caused by exposure to UV rays (usually from the sun)
- Melanoma accounts for only one percent of all skin cancer diagnoses, but it has a much higher death rate
- Early detection of skin cancer such as melanoma increases your chances of survival to 98 percent. This drops to 62 percent if the disease reaches your lymph nodes
- If you’ve had five or more sunburns in your life, then you are twice as likely to get melanoma
Can You Prevent Skin Cancer?
As you can see, there are a lot of reasons to be careful and protect yourself when out in the sun. Regardless, many people still choose not to err on the side of caution, even when friends or family members develop the disease.
Fortunately, skin cancer prevention and early detection are relatively easy as long as you stay smart about your exposure and take precautions. What’s important to note, however, is your risk factors. Things like having fair skin, discolored spots, and freckles can all increase your chances of developing skin cancer. As such, it’s important that you follow these tips to keep yourself healthy and avoid a potentially deadly diagnosis.
Skin Cancer Prevention Tips
Overall, the best thing you can do to reduce your odds of developing skin cancer is to avoid prolonged exposure to sunlight. If you’re worried about getting enough vitamin D, research suggests that all you need is about 15 minutes a day to get enough sunlight for a healthy body.
We also understand that there are plenty of external factors that can influence your ability to stay out of the sun, so with that in mind, here are the best things you can do to prevent skin cancer naturally.
- Avoid going out during the hottest parts of the day (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.)
- Don’t use tanning beds or lamps
- Use sunscreen if you are going to be out in the sun for more than twenty minutes (constant exposure)
- Make sure that sunscreen protects against UVA and UVB rays (SPF 30 or higher)
- Wear hats and sunglasses to keep your exposure minimal. Hats should cover your ears and face, and glasses should be treated to block all UV rays
- Don’t get sunburned. If you have kids, make sure that they don’t get burned either, as it can increase their chances of getting skin cancer in the future
For Fair Skin
If you have really light skin, then you have a much higher chance of developing skin cancer over time, especially if you burn easily. As such, you need to wear sunscreen for any prolonged exposure and wear clothes that sufficiently block sunlight.
You should also check your skin on a regular basis for any abnormal spot or moles. If they look patchy or have uneven lines, then it could be a sign of skin cancer. Again, the sooner you catch it, the higher your chance of beating it will be.
For Older Skin
As we age, our risk of developing cancer increases. This is particularly the case if we have been burned multiple times throughout the years. Melanoma is far more common in younger people, but BCC is far more likely to develop in people over the age of 55. Again, wear thick clothes that block the sun and be sure to use sunscreen if you plan on being outside for more than twenty minutes at a time.
How Does Sunscreen Protect You From Skin Cancer?
Simply put, if you use sunscreen, then your chances of developing skin cancer will reduce drastically. Not only that, but it will help prevent sunburns, which can also contribute to cancer risks. That being said, not all sunscreens are made the same, so while anything is better than nothing, there are some factors to consider when picking out the right mixture.
What Does SPF Measure?
This acronym stands for sun protection factor, and it illustrates how much longer the sun will take to do damage to your skin. For example, if you would turn red after about thirty minutes in direct sunlight, sunscreen with SPF 15 will make it take up to 15 times longer, which will be almost eight hours. As such, the higher the SPF, the more protection you get, but there is a limit to how much will actually work. As a general rule, you want to stick with SPF 15 or higher.
Choosing the Right Sunscreen
When looking at the different bottles, it can be a bit confusing to understand which ones will work the best. While it may be tempting to buy the one with the highest SPF, the fact is that 30-40 is about as high as you can go and still see noticeable results. By that, we mean that a sunscreen with SPF 30 will work about as well as one with SPF 75. The difference in protection is about one percent, so it only matters if you have highly sensitive skin.
- Broad Spectrum: in addition to the number, you want to make sure that the sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays. They will usually say it on the bottle or list “broad spectrum” protection.
- Waterproof vs. Water Resistant: if you plan on swimming or getting wet, then go with a waterproof brand. Water-resistant only helps if you intend on getting a little wet but not going completely under. Also, you will have to reapply sunscreen while swimming as it will inevitably wear off. No mixture is 100% waterproof, so be aware of that.Sweating: another thing to look for is sunscreens that are rated for exercise or sports. Sweat will cause the lotion to run off, so you may want something that is designed to last longer, so you don’t risk exposure much faster
How to Prevent Skin Cancer After a Sunburn
Although sunburns increase your chances of getting skin cancer, there are steps you can take to minimize the damage.
First, you want to cool the skin down as soon as possible, using aloe vera or some other sunburn treatment. You can also use ice and cold compresses. Second, you want to take an anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen to help keep swelling down. Third, use a non-oil based moisturizer to prevent the skin from drying out. You may also feel dehydrated after the fact, so drink plenty of water. Finally, if you have excessive blistering on your body, you may need to see a doctor.
This summer, don’t become a statistic. Be smart about how you enjoy the sun and protect your skin at all costs. Even though cancer is treatable, you don’t want to go through that experience if you don’t have to.