Skin cancer is always something to guard yourself against, but it’s especially important in the summer months. We all know that sunburns hurt, but did you know that it can take just one blistering sunburn -- even in youth -- to develop skin cancer later on? What’s more, your skin can be damaged even without a sunburn, leading to dark spots, wrinkles, and premature aging. Here’s how to protect yourself this summer.
There are two types of UV rays: UVA and UVB. Roughly 95% of the UV radiation that touches the earth’s surface are UVA rays, while about 5% are UVB rays. You might think of the “A” in UVA rays as “aging” and the “B” in UVB rays as “burning,” since that’s how they can cause damage in humans. But guess what? Both types of UV rays can cause skin cancer.
Exposure to UVA rays can cause the types of skin cancer known as basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), which are the most common skin cancers. UVB rays are generally more likely to cause melanoma, the most fatal of the types of skin cancers. As UVB rays penetrate the topmost layers of skin, they can alter the skin cells’ very DNA. But UVA rays permeate the skin more deeply, contributing to the formation of free radicals, which can drastically age the skin.
Excess sun exposure is the number one factor in the development of skin cancer. Keep in mind that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer worldwide, and two people die from it every hour.
With every bit of excess sun exposure, damage is caused to the skin cells. This damage can fundamentally alter the way collagen breaks down and regenerates. Collagen is a naturally occurring substance in the body that lends to skin’s firmness -- a trait of more youthful-looking skin. UV rays also affect the way elastin functions in the skin -- the substance that provides elasticity. So when sun damage occurs, skin becomes more wrinkled and sags more quickly. Excess sun damage can even cause the skin to bruise or tear more easily.
First, know that early detection of skin cancer is vital, so if you see any signs of skin cancer like new or changing moles, visit a dermatologist right away. Also, you should get an annual skin cancer screening, especially if you have a personal or family history of skin cancer. It should go without saying to avoid artificial light sources like tanning beds and booths, which contain UV rays and put you at a much higher risk of developing skin cancer. Opt for spray tans or tanning lotions instead.
You should wear at least SPF 30 every day (often, this can be found in a moisturizer), even if you’re indoors. When spending time in the sun, look for an SPF 50 sunscreen or higher, and reapply every two hours and after swimming in the ocean or pool. Try to avoid the peak hours of sunlight between 12 noon and 2 pm, and stay in the shade when possible.
Consider wearing protective clothing like sun shirts and wide-brimmed hats, as well as eye protection like sunglasses that block UV rays. And if you’re caring for children, be sure to protect their skin, too, whether you’re at the beach, taking a stroller ride, or playing at the park.
Do you need to schedule your annual skin cancer screening? If you’re in Baton Rouge or the surrounding areas, contact Louisiana Dermatology Associates today for an appointment with one of our board-certified specialists.