Taking Coverage from Skin Cancer
Up here in the Northland, the lure of sunshine is nearly irresistible, especially after a long winter where daylight is short. "The sun has a natural feel-good effect on us," says Dr J Jeffrey Evanson, St. Luke's Dermatology Associates. "Unfortunately, it's also the number one contributor to skin cancer." With more than one million new cases of basal cell carcinoma and another 50,000 cases of melanoma diagnosed each year, Dr. Evanson believes that the risk of skin cancer far outweighs the health benefits associated with sunlight.
"Over the years, chronic exposure to the sun damages the DNA in our skin cells, altering its composition," he says. "While the effects may not appear until we're in our 40s, 50s or 60s, damage begins decades earlier." In addition to increased cancer risk, the sun's ultraviolet rays also accelerate the loss of collagen, resulting in premature wrinkles and sunspots.
The best defense against these potential risks, Dr. Evanson says, is to choose a waterproof sunscreen with a minimum of 30 SPF and broad-spectrum coverage that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. For extra protection, he offers the following suggestions:
- Seek shade
Find cover under trees, a wide-brimmed hat or an umbrella, and wear long sleeves and pants made with a tight weave.
- Avoid the midday sun
If possible, stay out of the sun between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. when UV rays are the strongest. Even on a cloudy day, up to 80 percent of the sun's rays can penetrate light clouds, mist and fog.
- Consider reflection
A wide-brimmed hat won't protect you from the effects of water, sand, snow or concrete, which reflect up to 80 percent of the sun's damaging rays.
- Avoid tanning salons and sunlamps
The lights used in tanning salons and sunlamps emit primarily UVA radiation, known to cause sunburn, prematurely age the skin and increase the risk of cancer.
- Protect your kids
The most harmful effects of sun exposure occur during early childhood, making it even more important to keep infants and young children protected from direct sunlight.
- Shield your eyes
UV radiation from the sun may increase the risk of cataracts and skin cancer on the eyelids or surface of the eye, so make sure your sunglasses block out 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays.
- Monitor skin changes
Do a monthly spot check of moles and freckles to monitor changes, and call your health care provider if you see something suspicious.
To learn more about skin cancer prevention, visit the National Cancer Institute.