Time to Guard Against Skin Cancer

Summertime and the livin’ is easy. But it won’t be fun if you don’t protect yourself from the sun's harmful rays. With increased sun exposure, your risk for developing skin cancer increases.

The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States.  More than 3.5 million skin cancers in over two million people are diagnosed annually. Each year, there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung, and colon. Treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancers increased by nearly 77 percent between 1992 and 2006.

One in Five Americans Will Develop Skin Cancer

Over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime. Thirteen million white non-Hispanics living in the U.S. at the beginning of 2007 had at least one nonmelanoma skin cancer, typically diagnosed as basal cell carcinoma (BCC) or squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).

BCC is the most common form of skin cancer, with an estimated 2.8 million people diagnosed annually in the U.S. These forms of cancer are rarely fatal, but can be highly disfiguring if allowed to grow, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation.

In June 2010, Kate McKinnon found a mole on her upper left arm. “It would itch, and I would scratch it and it would bleed. One day I realized it was starting to disappear, and I went to a dermatologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. As soon as he saw it he took a biopsy. He called me a day later and said I had melanoma and I needed to get it removed,” said McKinnon.

Emphasizing that she was very scared when she received the diagnosis, McKinnon told Healthline her father and her younger sister have also had melanoma.

“I had another surgery under my right breast. This is a spot that didn't see a lot of sun, but I tanned a lot when I was a teenager. I also went to tanning beds. This spot wasn't melanoma, but it was bad enough that they had to cut it out, and I received ten stitches. I've had about half a dozen biopsies. Nothing else has turned out to be melanoma, so far, thank God,” said McKinnon.

Check It Out: What Does Skin Cancer Look Like? »

Wear Sunscreen Every Day

Angela J. Lamb, M.D., assistant professor, Department of Dermatology, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, sat down with Healthline to discuss how people can protect themselves and their families from developing skin cancer.

Lamb advised using sunscreen with an SPF of 30 for everyday use, and an SPF of 50 when you know you are going to be outdoors for lengthy periods. "Make sure sunscreen is part of your daily regimen, like brushing your teeth. Apply it about 20 to 30 minutes prior to going outside. Because of the way some of the sunscreens work, they really have to be absorbed into the skin before they can do what they need to do,” Lamb said, adding, “For some people, depending on their skin type, even five to ten minutes of direct sun exposure in that bright sun, which is at its peak between 10 am and 3 pm, can cause a burn.”

Overcast Days Are No Exception to Sunscreen Rule

And people need to apply sunscreen even on cold and overcast days. Lamb said that many people wear sunscreen only when they know they’ll be in direct sunlight. But people can easily get more exposure than they anticipate—if, for instance, they meet a friend or neighbor outside and engage in conversation longer than they expected.

Lamb went on to say that the clouds protect only against certain types of sun rays. "The rays get through the clouds. People should look for broad spectrum products, which means they protect against UVA and UVB rays. The key is reapplying sunscreen. If you are sweating and in the water, you need to reapply it every two hours.”

Out All Day

If you are planning to go swimming, play sports, or watch a game in the sun, Lamb recommends using sunscreen with SPF of 50. In addition, she advised wearing a broad-brimmed hat with at least two inches of brim. “A cap doesn't protect your ears or the sides of your face very well,“ advised Lamb.

Emphasizing that people make the mistake of using sunscreen as the primary form of sun protection, Lamb warned, “When you know you are going to be out, stay out of the sun as much as possible. If you know you’ll be at a game or a picnic, in addition to wearing a hat and using sunscreen, you should also wear long sleeves. You can also wear swimwear and clothes with built-in sun protection that are now available.”

Keeping Children and Infants Safe in the Sun

Lamb advised that you can safely use sunscreen on babies who are over six months; however, you should keep babies under six months of age out of the sun. Babies should wear hats, and their strollers should have protective visors. Lamb said to avoid using spray sunscreens on young children because they can inhale the mist, and the mist can get in their eyes.

Drivers, Pilots, and Lifeguards Need Protection

Although Lamb said that window panes filter out a large percentage of the sun’s rays, they do not offer protection from all rays. “People think that because they will be in the car all day, they are safe from the sun. Truckers who spend a lot of time in direct sunlight, depending on where they are traveling from, if they have more sun exposure on one side of their face, there is definitely a differential. Pilots and lifeguards are at high risk, too,” said Lamb.

Layering Products

Many moisturizers already provide an SPF of 15, but Lamb said while these products offer protection for everyday wear, you should put an SPF 30 or 50 on top of the moisturizer if you are going to be outside. “The sunscreen defaults to what the higher SPF is,” she said, adding, “You want to apply it every two hours. If you were sweating and wiped your face, you should apply it again.”

Related News: Young White Men Especially Prone to Skin Cancer Death »

New Products to Slather On

Many manufacturers are offering new sunscreens with new formulations.

  • Banana Boat is introducing Sport Performance CoolZone Lotion Sunscreens in SPF 30 and SPF 50. The products are intended to instantly cool and refresh skin on contact.
  • Neutrogena Beach Defense Sunscreen Stick, an oil-free and PABA-free product, is intended to glide on easily. Neutrogena is also launching Beach Defense Sunscreen Spray in a lightweight, fast absorbing mist. Yet another new product from Neutrogena is Wet Skin Kids Lotion Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 45+, which is supposed to provide full-strength protection even on wet skin.
  • Baby Blanket Suncare, a division of Children's Healthcare Research Group, has several new products for summer 2014, including Baby Blanket Faces SPF 50+. The product is intended to promote maximum UVA / UVB protection for delicate facial skin. The company is also unveiling Baby Tender Scalp Spray Sunscreen SPF 45+, as well as Baby Blanket Kids Sport SPF 50+ Continuous Spray, an alcohol and PABA-free product.
  • Coppertone is rolling out SPORT AccuSpray SPF 15 Sunscreen with AccuSpray technology, Coppertone SPORT Faces Lotion SPF 50 Sunscreen, and ClearlySheer Beach & Pool Body Lotion SPF 50 Sunscreen.  
  • Hawaiian Tropic is trotting out Sheer Touch Ultra Radiance lotion sunscreen, infused with shea butter complex and mango fruit extract.
  • Advanced Suncare Quick Dry Sheer Finish Spray 30 is making its debut from L’Oreal. The product is infused with vitamin E and white grape seed. For kids, L’Oreal is offering Kids Defense with Any Angle Air Power Spray - SPF 50, with  Goji Berry, vitamin C, and vitamin E.

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