The longer I am in practice here in Florida, the more patients I have wanting to learn how prevent skin cancer. There are a number of things one can do to reduce their chance of developing skin cancer, especially non-melanoma skin cancer. The most important action one can take to protect themselves is to minimize your time in the sun. The sun’s rays are most potent between the hours of 10:00 AM to 3:00PM, and direct exposure to these rays should be avoided as much as possible.
Apply sunscreen liberally and frequently when outdoors, this helps to create an extra layer of protection from the sun. I tell my patients to use a sunscreen with at least an SPF 30 that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. The key to applying sunscreen effectively is to use enough to ensure you cover all your skin and remember to reapply it every two hours, even if the sunscreen you use is “waterproof.” Elta sunscreen for the face and Elta sunscreen for the body, with SPF 30, are both available at our office. Neutrogena with helioplex technology and Aveeno both offer great over the counter sunscreens.
In my years of practice I have found that men are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer on the lips then women. This may be due more impart to women wearing sunscreen and lipsticks with SPFs, whereas men never think to put sun protection on their lips. I recommend that both men and women use lip products that include an SPF factor, check your local pharmacy.
It is very important to wear appropriate clothing during prolonged periods in the sun. This may include long sleeve shirts or pants and wide brim hats or ball caps. There are even sun protective clothing lines that use a light, breathable material with Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UCF) to help protect your skin. The UFC factor acts in comparison to the SPF rating for sunscreens. Two companies I recommend to my clients for sun protective clothing are Sun Precautions and Solumbra.
I can’t repeat this enough to my patients, avoid the tanning bed. Both tanning beds and sun lamps have been associated with premature aging and increased risk of skin cancer. I realize we live in the Sunshine state and no one wants to look like a pale polar bear, therefore, our practice has set-up airbrush tanning. This is a safe way to achieve a rich, glowing tan without the risks involved from sun exposure.
Leading by example is the best form of teaching. As I teach my patients how to be proactive against skin cancer, we should all teach our children how they can protect themselves. It is never too early to teach them the safe rules of sun exposure, how to effectively use sunscreen, and how to dress for protection. The majority of skin damage from the sun occurs before the age of 20. It can take as few as one or two blistering childhood sunburns to double the risk of malignant melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer.
The last word I leave you with is the best defense against skin cancer…see your dermatologist. I recommend a yearly skin exam from a board certified dermatologist. I’ve seen melanoma on parts of the body that have never even been exposed to the sun. Melanoma is almost always curable if it is caught in the early stages. Your dermatologist can diagnose and treat skin cancer in the earliest stages with regular skin exams.