There is no such thing as a “healthy tan.” Actually, a tan is your body’s response to cellular-level damage from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, the primary risk factor for melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.
Risks for Developing Skin Cancer
The risk for developing skin cancer grows with the amount of exposure, so if you live in a sunny climate or spend a lot of time outdoors you are at greater risk. You also have a heightened risk of skin cancer if you had multiple severe sunburns as a child.
Certain people are at higher risk from their genetics or family history. The CDC website lists the following characteristics as being at greater risk for developing skin cancer:
- A lighter natural skin color.
- Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun.
- Blue or green eyes.
- Blond or red hair.
- Certain types and a large number of moles.
- A family history of skin cancer.
- A personal history of skin cancer.
- Older age
UV Radiation Facts
There are three types of ultraviolet radiation produced by the sun - UVA, UVB, and UVC.
Only two of the types increase the risk of skin cancer by damaging the DNA in your skin cells:
- UVA is associated with premature skin aging
- UVB is associated with sunburn
Both UVA and UVB exposure damages the skin at the cellular level, leading to gene mutations that can lead to skin cancer. The third type of UV light, UVC, cannot penetrate earth’s ozone layer and doesn’t reach the surface.
The strength of UV rays reaching the ground varies. Factors that impact UV radiation levels include:
- Time of Day - avoid going outside between 10am and 4pm when the rays are strongest
- Season - spring and summer months produce the strongest rays
- Latitude - the closer you are to the equator, the stronger the rays
- Altitude - higher elevations have higher UV levels
- Cloud Cover - clouds “can” reduce the strength of the rays, but it’s important to note some UV radiation will make it through, even on a cloudy day
- Reflection off surfaces - water, sand, snow, and pavement are all surfaces that can reflect UV rays.
Although too much exposure to UV rays will damage your skin, it’s not ALL bad. 5-15 minutes of sun exposure 2-3 times per week is beneficial in the production of Vitamin D which helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus from food and promotes strong bone development.
Reducing Your Risk of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer caused by UV exposure may be the most common cancer in the United States but the good news is that your risk can be greatly reduced by taking simple protective measures.
Basal Cell Cancer (BCC) and Squamous Cell Cancer (SCC) are the two most common types. They most often appear on areas of the body which receive the most sun exposure - the head, face, neck, arms, and hands.
Minimize your exposure to UV rays using the tips below to reduce your chances of developing skin cancer in the future.
- Be “Sunscreen Savvy” and wear a SPR 15+ broad-spectrum sunscreen every day
- Avoid spending time outside mid-day when the sun’s UVB rays are strongest (10am-3pm)
- Wear protective clothing to cover your arms and legs
- Wear a hat that will shade your head, face, ears, and neck
- Wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays‘
- Check your medications to see if they increase your sun-sensitivity
- Don’t use indoor tanning devices
An OUNCE of Prevention can Save You a Pound of Cure
One ounce of broad-spectrum sunscreen can protect your body from harmful UV rays, so make sure to use it every day, year-round, and reapply every two hours if you’re spending time outdoors.
Of course you can’t turn back time and erase any previous sunburns you had, so make sure you check for changes to your skin during your monthly self-exams and schedule annual skin cancer exams with your dermatologist.
Call Integrated Dermatology of Tidewater today at (757) 461-1033 Opt. 1 to book your next skin care appoinment.