Choosing the Right Sunscreen: Protect Yourself from Skin Cancer – Mission Health Blog – News Block

During the warmer weather and longer days of summer, you may find yourself spending more time soaking up the sun. But it’s important to practice sun safety to protect yourself from skin cancer. Applying sunscreen helps reduce the risk of skin cancer, but not all SPF levels are created equal. Here’s what you need to know to get the best possible protection.

How does sunscreen reduce the risk of skin cancer?

The skin is the largest organ in the body and has several layers. The two main layers are called the epidermis (outer layer) and dermis (inner layer). Skin cancer begins in the epidermis, which is made up of three types of cells: basal cells, squamous cells, and melanocytes. The three main types of skin cancer (basal, squamous, and melanoma) start in each of these cells, respectively.

Basal and squamous cell carcinomas are the two most common types of skin cancer. They can usually be cured if detected and treated early. Melanoma can also be cured if treated early, but it is the most dangerous skin cancer because it can spread to other parts of the body.

Skin cancer can be caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, sunlamps, or tanning beds. There are three types of UV radiation:

  • UVA rays have the least amount of energy, but can cause skin cells to age or cause indirect damage to skin cell DNA. They may play a role in some skin cancers.
  • UVB rays have more energy than UVA rays and can directly damage the DNA of skin cells. They are believed to cause most skin cancers.
  • UVC rays have the highest amount of energy, but they react with ozone high in the atmosphere and do not reach the ground. However, they can be found in man-made products, such as UV sanitizer bulbs. UVC rays are not usually a risk factor for skin cancer.

Sunscreen helps protect against harmful UV rays. Chemical sunscreens absorb the sun’s rays, while physical sunscreens sit on the skin’s surface and deflect the rays. Sunscreen is available as a lotion, cream, gel, spray, wax stick, or ointment.

What do the SPF levels mean?

You’re probably familiar with the term “SPF,” or sun protection factor, that appears on sunscreen labels. The accompanying number is a measure of how well it protects the skin against sunburn. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends an SPF of 30 or higher when you go outdoors, even if it’s cloudy outside. About 80% of the sun’s rays can penetrate clouds.

A higher SPF number is better up to a point, but no sunscreen can block 100% of the sun’s rays. Here’s how the numbers break down:

  • SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays
  • SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays
  • SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays
  • SPF 100 blocks 99% of UVB rays

No matter which SPF you choose, you need to use the right amount to cover your body. The AAD recommends using 1 ounce to cover all exposed skin. That includes the feet, hands, neck, top of the head, and ears. Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours. You will also need to reapply sunscreen after swimming or sweating. Remember that waterproof does not mean waterproof. If a sunscreen label says it’s waterproof, it should also say how long it lasts when you swim or sweat; often it is 40 or 80 minutes.

You’ll also want to consider the time of day when choosing a sunscreen. UV rays are strongest between 10 am and 2 pm If you can’t stay inside during those hours, choose a sunscreen with a higher SPF.

Do different skin types and skin tones need different sunscreens?

Contrary to popular belief, people with darker skin tones also need to use sunscreen to protect against skin cancer. While melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color, helps block some of the sun’s rays, it doesn’t offer complete protection. SPF 30 is the minimum recommendation for all skin tones.

You should also consider your skin type when choosing a sunscreen. If you have dry skin, look for a sunscreen with hyaluronic acid and a moisturizing agent. Choose an oil-free sunscreen if you have oily or acne-prone skin.

Do you need sunscreen indoors?

It may seem counterintuitive, as staying indoors is one way to protect yourself from sunburn, but you should also wear sunscreen indoors. The sun’s rays can pass through windows and come into contact with your skin, so staying indoors doesn’t offer full protection unless you’re in a room with no windows or drawn curtains.

How do you check for skin cancer?

Although sunscreen can reduce the risk of skin cancer, it doesn’t completely prevent it. Starting at age 20, you should perform full-body self-exams and discuss whether regular skin exams by a doctor may be appropriate based on your risk level. Getting to know your skin by performing a self-exam each month can help you identify any changes that may indicate cancer. Look for anything unusual, such as moles or spots that are growing or bleeding. The AAD suggests looking for the ABCDEs of melanoma:

  • TOSymmetry: One half of the spot is different from the other.
  • B.order: The border of the spot is irregular or poorly defined.
  • C.Odor: The stain has varied colors.
  • D.Diameter: The stain has a diameter of the size of a pencil eraser (6 millimeters), although some may be smaller.
  • myreturning: The spot looks different from the others or is changing in size, shape, or color.

Common signs of skin cancer can also include smooth, waxy bumps or firm, red bumps. If you notice any of these signs, you should contact your primary care doctor or dermatologist. HCA Healthcare patient George Lowry did just that when he found four pea-sized lumps under the skin of his torso in January 2022. The 73-year-old man was diagnosed with melanoma.

George received care at the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at the Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, Colorado, part of our larger HCA Healthcare network. Her treatment plan included surgery and immunotherapy to remove the cancer and reduce the chance of recurrence. Today, George is in remission and recognizes the importance of being proactive with skin issues.

“My message to anyone with skin is to protect it. That includes wearing sunscreen, wearing a hat, minimizing sun exposure, etc.,” George said. “I think my first melanoma was in 2006. After the next couple showed up and was surgically removed, I increased the frequency of visits from yearly to three months.”

Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your risk of skin cancer. Remember to practice sun protection this summer and all year long!

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