As we move toward beach season, we’ll all be spending more time outdoors and raising our chances of joining the ranks of the 1 million people the American Cancer Society tells us are diagnosed with skin cancer each year, which is why it’s vital not to ignore skin cancer warning signs.
Experts firmly believe many of these cancers are sun related, which means there are things you can do, even in the summer or at the beach, to protect yourself and those you love from this most common of cancers.
Our skin is actually the largest organ of the body, covering the internal organs, protecting them from harm and offering a barrier against infection. Skin also helps regulate your body temperature and gets rid of extra water and salts.
Some skin cells are known to communicate with the brain to help sense temperature, touch and pain.
When it comes to skin cancer, there are three classifications – basal cell, squamous cell, or the more serious (and deadly) melanoma.
Both basal and squamous cell cancers are found mostly on parts of the body regularly exposed to the sun – the head, neck, earlobes and such.
They happen most often in those who spend, or have spent, lots of time in the sun.
While these forms of skin cancer aren’t fatal, you still need to have them taken care of because they can invade, and disfigure, nearby tissues.
Melanomas are another story.
These cancers can show up anywhere on the body – more likely on the trunk and legs.
Those with darker skin tones can have this form of cancer on the soles of the feet and palms of the hands where the pigment is lighter.
The danger of this form of skin cancer is that it often goes too long undetected, and so has a chance to spread.
Your best bet when it comes to avoiding skin cancer is to stay out of intense sunlight for long periods, and be sure to practice sun safety no matter what season it is.
This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy time out in the sun, but avoid the most intense hours from 10:00 in the morning to well after 2:00 (some say as late as 4:00) in the afternoon.
A bit of sun is fine and needed to boost your levels of vitamin D, but too much is when trouble can start.
When it comes to sunscreen or lip balm, look for SPF of 15 or more, and use a generous amount when you first apply. Be sure to reapply your product every 2 to 4 hours, or after you go swimming, towel dry or sweat profusely.
Experts warn that you should never skip sunscreen on hazy or overcast days – UV rays go right through clouds.
When you’re considering sunscreen products, look beyond the SPF number at the expiration dates of any product you buy and make sure you follow the application directions.
If you’ll be in the water a lot, the waterproof formulas are better than water resistant brands. And remember, a higher SPF number relates only to UVB rays and can work just as well as a lower number, applied properly.
You may see products that claim to provide both UVA and UVB ray protection, but according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “At this time there is no standard system for measuring protection from UVA rays.”
Beyond wearing sunscreen and avoiding the most intense hours of sunlight, here are some other helpful suggestions for protecting yourself from skin cancer.
– Wear sunglasses to shield your eyes from cataracts, as well as melanoma of the eye or skin caner at the temples. Look for UVA/UVB protection of 99 to 100%.
– Look for shade that casts a shadow, or cover up with a tee or sweats.
– Consider sun protection clothing that’s tightly knit and is typically coated with substances able to absorb UV rays.
– Do a skin check once a month that covers your whole body and look for anything skin change, or a mole that’s Asymmetrical, has irregular Borders, Color or Diameter. Being familiar with the blemishes of your body helps you spot changes, and get treatment early, when cure rates are high.
– Stay away from using tanning beds (or sun lamps) on a regular basis, the lamps used in the beds send out UVA (and UVB sometimes) rays in concentrated doses, accelerating the total UV radiation. What happens is that you end up with skin cancer at an earlier age. This increases the risk of getting skin cancer at an early age.
If you’re determined to have that sun kissed look, self tanners are a safe, effective way to get it.
These products often contain SPF as well, so you get a bronzed glow that has you looking thinner and healthier, while also offering good protection for your skin, and hopefully keeping you and your loved ones free of skin cancer warning signs.