Mind & Body
Skin Cancer & the Sun:What You Need to Know by Stefanie Powers
6/1/2020 9:54:02 AM
Skin Cancer

Summer is upon us, and after a very stressful few months that none of us could have imagined, our thoughts are turning to getting outdoors, enjoying life again, and soaking up the sun.  

But beware: the sun can be deadly. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer worldwide. The two most common types of skin cancer—basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas—are quite curable, but can be disfiguring and costly to treat. The third most common skin cancer is melanoma, and it is the by far the most dangerous and deadly. 

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, and more than two people die of the disease in our country every hour. Having five or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma. 

The majority of these three types of skin cancer are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. Ultraviolet rays are an invisible kind of radiation that comes from the sun, tanning beds, and sunlamps that can penetrate and damage skin cells.

In addition to causing sunburn, too much exposure to UV rays can change skin texture, cause the skin to age prematurely, and can lead to skin cancer. UV rays also have been linked to eye conditions such as cataracts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers the following recommendations:

Stay in the Shade

The hours between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. are the most dangerous for UV exposure. You can reduce your risk of skin damage and skin cancer by seeking shade under an umbrella, tree, etc. during these hours. Of course, that’s not enough. Your best bet is to use sunscreen and wear protective clothing when you’re outside—even when you’re in the shade.

Avoid Indoor Tanning

Studies have found that exposure to UV radiation during indoor tanning damages the DNA in the skin cells. Excessive exposure to UV radiation during indoor tanning can lead to premature skin aging, immune suppression and eye damage, including cataracts and ocular melanoma. Consider spray tans as an alternative. 

Cover Up

Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs. Clothes made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection. A wet T-shirt offers much less UV protection than a dry one, and darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors. Keep in mind that a typical T-shirt has an SPF rating lower than 15, so use other types of protection as well.

Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade your face, head, ears, and neck. A fabric such as canvas works best. Straw hats are cute but impractical, as the holes let sunlight through. Baseball caps don’t protect your ears or the back of your neck, so make sure you use sunscreen on those exposed areas. Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the tender skin around your eyes from sun exposure. Wrap-around sunglasses work best because they block UV rays from sneaking in from the side.


Sunscreens are assigned a sun protection factor (SPF) number that rates their effectiveness in blocking UV rays. Higher numbers indicate more protection. You should use a broad-spectrum sunscreen (both UVA and UVB protection) with at least SPF 15 or higher. 

Remember to put a thick layer on all parts of your exposed skin, such as your back (ask a friend for help). Most sunscreen products work by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering sunlight. They contain chemicals that interact with the skin to protect it from UV rays. All products do not have the same ingredients; if your skin reacts badly to one product, try another. And remember, sunscreen works best when combined with the options listed above to prevent UV damage. Also be sure you reapply it after swimming, or if you stay out in the sun for more than two hours.

Posted by: Stefanie Powers | Submit comment | Tell a friend

Categories: Health

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