How to Prevent Skin Cancer

With the school year ending and family vacations and lazy days by the pool on the horizon, it is time to learn how to protect the body’s largest organ – the skin. This year alone, over 1 million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the US. This is a number that should make us sit up and take notice. Of these 1 million new cases, 55,000 of them will be diagnosed as melanoma, a potentially terminal form of skin cancer whereas three years ago, it was 37,000 cases.

I have always belonged to the group that felt that tan fat looks more attractive than pale fat and found myself lounging in the sun hoping for that bronze color. In my mind, the gains far outweighed the risks, and so I continued to worship the sun. My heart skipped a beat when I learned that skin cancer occurs three times more often than breast cancer and lung cancer combined.

The more I researched, the more I learned that in the 25-29 age group for women, melanoma is the #1 form of cancer. At this stage of life, women should have far more pressing issues with which to attend (building careers, raising kids, enjoying being 25-29, etc.) than fighting for their lives. In the 30-34 age group, melanoma is the 2nd most common form of cancer. It is a disease that crosses socioeconomic lines, and accounts for more than 50% of all cancers diagnosed in the US.

Possibly, you are still among the 60% of Americans who still actively seek the sun or one of only 30% who use sunscreen on vacation or one of the more than 80% of Americans who do not wear sunscreen daily.

With these statistics in mind, it is empowering to know that skin cancer is preventable. Applying sunscreen is the most important weapon in the fight against sun cancer. If you need further convincing, know that each time you burn you double your risk of skin cancer.

Wearing sunscreen everyday is the moral of this story. Since sun damage takes place in the first 60 seconds, apply it 15-30 minutes before going in the sun. Applying sunscreen before going in the sun helps the body “activate” its protection ability. It is also absolutely important that you choose a sunscreen that does not contain mineral oil as this will cause the body to overheat as well as further drying out the skin. In addition, don’t think that the sunscreen you apply at 7 in the morning will protect you all day. Your sunscreen will wear off in approximately 3-4 hours, so carrying a small bottle for reapplication will make all the difference.

Women should also add sunscreen to their daily regimen. Many of today’s daily moisturizers contain an SPF but it may not be enough. In choosing a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 and a daily moisturizer that has no mineral oil, it should not feel any different under makeup. Simply allow an extra 5 minutes for the sunscreen to absorb in the skin and continue with the rest of your usual routine.

When we think of sun-damaged skin, we naturally think of adult skin, but children are the most vulnerable. It is so important to lube those kids up so that when they reach our age, the numbers will have decreased significantly. Research has shown that over 70% of the damage done to our skin takes place before we even reach 20 years old. When we make sunscreen part of our children’s routine, they will carry that behavior into adulthood and, hopefully, we will keep them safer than we kept ourselves. And, reapplication will be the key to maintaining healthy skin for our kids.

Selecting an appropriate sunscreen is a difficult task when faced with an entire wall full of choices at your local drug store. What do you look for in a good sunscreen? There are a few basic things to keep in mind, and price and brand name do not necessarily mean anything. The ingredient list is a great place to start, and you need to make sure that mineral oil is not listed. While being a petro-chemical derivative, mineral oil acts as a barrier on the skin thereby sealing in heat, a very dangerous side effect on those hot days. Mineral oil is also a humectant, which means it draws moisture from within the skin to moisturize the outer layer. The sun will do its own work to dry out the skin; you do not need to add mineral oil to speed that process along.

And, finally, when considering SPF level, know that the SPF number only tells you how much longer you can go without burning. If it would normally take, say 10 minutes to start to feel the effects of the sun, an SPF of 15 means that you can go 150 minutes before you need to reapply sunscreen (that is 15 times as long). Believe it or not, even for the old man and the sea, no one can go more than 30 minutes without feeling the effects of the sun, even if you don’t burn.

We no longer need to suffer with those uncomfortable burns and we can maintain our youthful skin by adding sunscreen to our daily routine. Now we can enjoy that summer sun safely!

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