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Preparation is Key to Preventing Skin Cancer

Medically reviewed by Bari Cunningham, MD, Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on January 13, 2023

Although you may have a one in five chance of contracting skin cancer, there are ways to improve those odds. Across the world, skin cancer rates are on the rise. Australia and New Zealand led the globe for highest rates of melanoma in 2018. Every year over one million people are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer. The choices you make today will affect your health in the future. Preventing skin cancer is about being prepared. Fortunately, protecting yourself is pretty easy.


Maintaining Healthy Skin


The skin is your body’s largest organ. Most of us picture the brains, lungs, heart, liver, or kidneys when we picture our organs. However, some 74 other organs also perform important functions and serve a unique purpose. Recently scientists even discovered a”new” organ – the mesentery


Your skin acts as a shield. Unfortunately, it bears the brunt of our day-to-day lives, suffering bruises and cuts on a regular basis. It’s not surprising that treating your skin well will improve your overall health. Applying sunscreen as part of your morning routine is the best way to prevent skin cancer. You probably wouldn’t leave the house without brushing your teeth–don’t skip the sunscreen, either. Look for a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. If you are fair skinned or spend a lot of time in the sun, you’ll want a higher number – at least 50. Today, many moisturizers also contain SPF. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen. Remember, UVB rays are the ones most responsible for skin cancer – especially malignant melanoma. Because UVA rays can penetrate more deeply into the skin, they contribute to wrinkles and age spots. 


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Skin Cancer - Prevention

Skin Cancer - Prevention

Driving a car in bright sunlight can damage your skin. As any snowboarder can attest, it’s possible to get a sunburn in the middle of winter. This is why sunscreen is so vital no matter the season. When it comes to sun exposure, timing is everything. As Noel Coward wrote, only “mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.”  Whether or not you are British, avoiding the sun between noon and three is a good idea. Enjoying a bit of sunshine during the cocktail hour has all of the health benefits and far less risk. And make no mistake about it. Sunlight has a clear health benefit: Vitamin D. 


Because Vitamin D is produced in the skin when exposed to the sun’s UVB rays, sunlight is the main source for Vitamin D. More than one third of all people in the United States are Vitamin-D deficient. Those who live in areas with less sunlight and anyone with darker skin has a higher risk factor for this deficiency. Vitamin D is not technically even a vitamin. It isn’t found in most food. Instead, it is produced in the body. Doctors have recommended a Vitamin D supplement with 400 IU for those at risk, but some suggest as much as 1,000 IU a day is okay for adults. Although recent reports have suggested that sunscreens with high SPFs are contributing to the growing deficiency, most experts believe its protection from cancer and premature aging outweighs the deficiency risk. So the best way to get enough of this vitamin is with small doses of sunshine. Since several recent studies suggest that Vitamin D supplements might protect against acute respiratory infections (ARIs) while improving outcomes among those suffering from ARIs it could also be beneficial during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Wearing More Outdoors, Less While Fake Baking


If you must be outside in midday, a large-brimmed hat or sun umbrella can provide protection. So will long pants and long-sleeved tops in darker colors. Still, they aren’t a substitute for sunscreen. You should also don a pair of sunglasses designed to block both UVA and UVB rays. They will not only protect your eyes, but the delicate skin around them as well. 


A growing body of evidence links tanning bed use to increasing rates of melanoma – especially among young women. Avoiding them entirely may be the best way to prevent skin cancer. However, many enjoy them. Besides the perceived improvements in appearance, users cite everything from better moods to clearer skin as the reason they continue to use tanning beds. Advocates also point to the advantages of getting sun in areas that are rarely exposed outdoors.  Although most dermatologists are virulently opposed to tanning beds, asking adults to end a pleasurable activity is unrealistic––not to mention harmful to the thousands of businesses reliant on tanning beds. So if you do use them, build up your time slowly. Use lotions designed for indoor tanning while being especially careful of more sensitive areas. Make sure to moisturize regularly––a vital part of skin health. Tanning salons are shifting away from beds toward sprays. While the appearance of these sprays have improved considerably over the years, be careful. Spray tan users sometimes forget that their artificially dark skin won’t stop a sunburn. Spending time outside, preferably in natural surroundings, is vital for mental health. By planning ahead, you can prevent skin cancer and still have fun in the sun.


Written by John Bankston

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