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Prevent Skin Cancer: Sun Protection

The key to saving lives from Skin Cancer is twofold: Prevention and Early Detection.

Why do we need to protect ourselves from the sun? When the sun's ultraviolet radiation (UV) reaches the surface of the skin, the skin reacts by producing melanin - otherwise known as a tan - to protect itself. UVA rays are milder than UVB rays, but because their wavelengths are longer, they penetrate deeper through the skin's layers. UVA rays contribute to premature aging of the skin (wrinkling) as well as to the development of skin cancer. UVA rays can also pass through window glass. UVB rays are the main cause of sunburn and skin cancer. This portion of sunlight intensifies during the summer and can do more damage more quickly than UVA rays. The epidermis absorbs most of the intensity of UVB rays. UVB rays cannot pass through glass.

As most skin cancers are commonly caused or have their risk increased by ultraviolet light, if you can combine the following you can protect yourself and remove significant risk:

1. Use a good sunscreen lotion

SPF 30 or higher
  • Containing Parsol 1789 (Avobenzone) or Mexoryl sx to protect from UVA
  • Water-resistant if possible Ė but reapply after swimming or heavy sweating
  • Use lip sunscreen or zinc oxide

Some examples of sunscreen with broad UV spectrum protection:

  • Anthelios 30 to 60
  • Ombrelle 30 to 60
  • UVGuard 30
  • Presun Ultra 30

2. Use appropriate clothing to reduce sun exposure

  • wide-brimmed hats
  • sunglasses with 100% UV protection
  • opaque clothing with a tight weave worn on arms and legs

3. Avoid excessive sun exposure

  • UV rays burn the most between 11 am and 3 pm, so if you can reduce outside summer activity during that time you will reduce the risk from UV damage
  • Reflective surfaces can redirect up to 85% of the sunís damaging rays, so beware of surfaces like water, sand, snow, and concrete
  • Beware of cloudy days as UV light can burn your skin through cloud cover as well
  • Keep children under the age of 1 completely out of the sun

The more fair your skin, the greater at risk you are from sun damage and ultimately from skin cancer as well. All three main types of skin cancer are at least twice as common in people with light skin, hair, and eye color compared to those who have darker features. However, protection from the damaging rays of the sun is necessary from childhood onwards for people of all skin types to reduce the risk of developing skin cancer.

Different types of cancer seem to spring from different types of sun exposure, so protection is really the key to reduce all risk. Some cancers stem more from intermittent recreational sun exposure, as opposed to squamous cell cancer which appears to stem more from constant sun exposure.

Even artificial sunlight can be as damaging to your skin as the real thing. Artificial UV rays from tanning salons and sun lamps damage your skin as well. Artificial UVA rays in tanning booths not only inflict the same type of skin and eye damage as the sun, but also may be as much as 20 times stronger than natural sunlight.

Remember: a suntan is your skinís way of showing damage to sun exposure. The deeper the tan, the more your skin is fighting to protect itself from sun damage. Keep this in mind the next time you admire someoneís tan.

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