Protecting Yourself Against Skin Cancer

Parker Center for Plastic Surgery

Skin cancer rates continue to rise dramatically in the United States. Currently, one in six Americans develops skin cancer at some point. Skin cancer accounts for one third of all cancers in the United States. Most of these are non-melanoma cancers such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Mortality associated with these skin cancers is unusual. Melanoma, the eighth most common malignancy in the United States, accounts for 75 percent of all deaths associated with skin cancer. Needless to say, skin cancer is something we all want to avoid if possible.

3 Essentials for Preventing Skin Cancer

The rising incidence of skin cancer is thought to be due to increased sun exposure associated with changing lifestyles and the depletion of the protective ozone layer. Sun exposure is a major cause of skin cancer, and shielding your skin from prolonged sun exposure is one of the most accessible ways you have to lessen your chances of developing a skin tumor. How can you protect your skin? Wear sunscreen, make smart clothing choices, and adopt healthy skincare habits.

1. Wear Quality Sunscreen Regularly

The efficacy of sun protection is measured by its sun protection factor (SPF). The SPF is the ratio of the least amount of UVB radiation required to produce erythema on protected skin compared to the amount of UVB required to produce the same amount of redness on unprotected skin.

Sunscreens function either chemically or physically. Chemical sunscreens absorb UV radiation and therefore reduce skin penetrance by UV radiation. Physical sunscreens reflect UV radiation by providing a physical barrier. Common physical sunscreens are opaque agents such as titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, etc.

Remember: sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure and re-applied every 2 hours. Useful sunscreens should have an SPF of at least 15. Sunscreens only provide a mechanism to reduce sun damage—they are not a license to go out under the sun for prolonged periods of time. Re-apply more frequently after swimming or heavy perspiration.

2. Wear Protective Clothing

Did you know that most regular clothing provides little protection against the sun? A cotton T-shirt has an SPF of less than 10—this decreases rapidly when the clothing is wet. Even if you cannot see a sunburn, UV radiation is still affecting your skin. Look for clothing with an SPF factor built-in. You can find a variety of clothing brands that carry garments made with SPF fabric.

3. Establish Healthy Skincare Habits

Be smart about protecting your skin. Not only will doing so help prevent skin cancer, it can also help you enjoy younger looking skin longer. The earlier in life you can establish these habits, the better.

  • Avoid outdoor activity during peak hours of sunlight. If you must be outdoors, wear sunscreen.
  • Wear additional sun protective clothing. In addition to SPF fabric clothing, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses will help protect the delicate skin on your face and neck.
  • DO NOT USE TANNING BEDS. This cannot be emphasized enough.
  • Have regular dermatologic evaluations. It is important to establish a baseline for what is “normal” for your skin, so you and your dermatologist can better identify changes.

If you have any questions about skin cancer prevention or treatment, please feel free to contact us. We will be happy to assist you.

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