May is Skin Cancer awareness month, so I thought I would do a quick blog on sun protection and skin care in regards to sun exposure.
Approximately 1 in 5 Americans will have some type of skin cancer in their lifetime. Skin cancers are the most common type of cancer in the United States of America. Protection from damaging UVA/UVB rays can help improve ones odds significantly.
Some basic tips include avoiding sun exposure between 10-4, wearing broad spectrum sunscreen, wearing protective sunglasses, wearing broad rimmed hats and seeking shade whenever possible. But when you find yourself in the sun, your choice of sunscreen protection is important.
When purchasing sunscreen look for broad spectrum, meaning, protects against UVA and UVB radiation. Broadly, UVB rays burn our skin and UVA rays go deeper and damage the skins structure. Both increase cancer risk. Both contribute to premature aging of the skin.
In the sunscreen market there are chemical sunscreens that are referred to as absorbers. They absorb the UV rays and convert them to heat. There are a long list of these chemical agents and some cover either UVA, UVB and some absorb both. There are approximately 20 FDA approved agents. These chemical agents have a maximum amount of absorption and then loose their effectiveness unless reapplied. Physical agents, such as zinc dioxide and titanium dioxide, reflect the UVA/UVB rays. I always discourage patients from focusing too much on the SPF factor because an SPF of 15 filters 93% of the UV rays while SPF of 30 filters 97%. Going to an SPF of 50, 70, 80 or 100 does not significantly improve your protection factor. Reapplying, however, does.
I am a big fan of physical agents as they are the least likely to cause irritation, work immediately upon application and offer broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection. When applying make sure not to miss the eye area, ears, backs of legs, feet, lips, and if you are bald or have thinning hair, the scalp. Sunscreens with zinc and titanium are not the thick greasy kind we remember from our childhood. They are now micronized and have a cosmetically elegant feel. Do not under utilize your sunscreen. When applying to your whole body you should use several tablespoons of sunscreen.
There are increasingly sunscreen garments that can add protection. Rash guards are increasingly popular and fashionable. When purchasing sun protection wear make sure it has a UVP rating on the label. Do not rely solely on this as a means to protect your skin.
Finally, I wanted to review protecting eyes. Repeated and cumulative UVB/UVA exposure to the eyes can contribute to cataracts and macular degeneration. Eyelids (upper and lower) are one of the most common sites for non melanoma skin cancers. The lower lids are more effected than the upper lids. Sunscreen and sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection are vital. Skin cancers on the eyelids do not always present the same way as elsewhere on the face. These types of cancers tend to infiltrate and can effect ocular structures, thus putting site at risk. Those with light colored eyes and skin are more at risk. Ideally your eyelid skin is evaluated by your dermatologist yearly.
That brings me to the importance of yearly skin checks. A yearly skin check should be part of your routine medical evaluation. Depending on your risk factors a physician may determine if this should be done more or less frequently. There are also physicians who will skin map you if you are at higher risk. (take photos to reference back to, helping to evaluate changes over time) I had mine mapped as I am a fair red head who spent part of her childhood in the South Pacific with year round sun exposure and am covered in acquired nevus (brown skin lesions/freckles). If you feel you have too many spots to keep track of skin mapping may be a good option.
I am a huge fan of the Elta MD® line of sunscreens (thus the photo) and encourage everyone to find their favorite sunscreen. If you love it you will use it!
Happy Memorial Day weekend! Protect yourself while having fun out there 🙂