* This post originally appeared on The PediaBlog on July 13, 2017.
Protection From Summer Sun
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Basal cell and squamous cell cancers remain close to their origin and don’t typically spread to other organs. These two types of nonmelanoma skin cancers are more common than melanoma, a rarer but far more aggressive malignancy. The vast majority of skin cancers are caused by exposure to ultraviolet light which comes naturally from the Sun and unnaturally from tanning beds. Childhood exposure to ultraviolet rays is associated with the formation of melanomas and basal cell tumors, whereas total lifetime exposure, regardless of age, determines the risk of developing squamous cell cancers. The National Cancer Institute lists the following risk factors for melanoma:
- Having a fair complexion, which includes the following:
- Fair skin that freckles and burns easily, does not tan, or tans poorly.
- Blue or green or other light-colored eyes.
- Red or blond hair.
- Being exposed to natural sunlight or artificial sunlight (such as from tanning beds) over long periods of time.
- Being exposed to certain factors in the environment (in the air, your home or workplace, and your food and water). Some of the environmental risk factors for melanoma are radiation, solvents, vinyl chloride, and PCBs.
- Having a history of many blistering sunburns, especially as a child or teenager.
- Having several large or many small moles.
- Having a family history of unusual moles (atypical nevussyndrome).
- Having a family or personal history of melanoma.
- Being white.
- Having a weakened immune system.
- Having certain changes in the genes that are linked to melanoma.
Protecting skin from the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays and from indoor tanning beds is the mainstay of prevention, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Follow these easy options—
- Stay in the shade, especially during midday hours.
- Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs.
- Wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays.
- Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher and both UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) protection.
- Avoid indoor tanning.
The face is the most common body site for skin cancer to develop, according to Amanda MacMillan. She points to a small British study revealing that people tend to miss 10% of their faces while applying sunscreen:
The researchers used a computer analysis to determine that, on average, people missed 9.5% of their faces—most commonly because they skipped spots around the eyes. About 13% of people missed their eyelids, and 77% of people missed spots between the inner corners of the eyes and the bridge of the nose.
Then they asked the participants to return to the lab for a follow-up visit and repeat the sunscreen application, this time giving them extra information about skin cancers of the eye region. There was a slight improvement in eyelid coverage, but none for the area between the eyes and nose. Even after the warning, people still left an average of 7.7% of their face unprotected.
Applying sunscreen too close to the eyes can cause an unpleasant burning sensation, especially if a person is sweating or swimming. For this reason, additional sun protection by using sunglasses and hats, finding shaded areas, and reapplying sunscreen frequently is advised:
Hamill also recommends using plenty of sunscreen and reapplying often—especially on the face and neck, where more than 90% of basal cell carcinomas (the most common form of skin cancer) are diagnosed. “That way even if you miss a spot first time around, or rub some off, you’re likely to get it the next time.”
We’ve covered sun protection, sunscreens, and skin cancer previously on The PediaBlog here.