Skin Protection 101
FAQs about skin protection
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The two most common types of skin cancer, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, are highly curable. However, melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is more dangerous, especially among young people. Most melanomas are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from sunlight or tanning beds.
Estimated new cases and deaths from melanoma in the United States in 2009 (1):
- New Cases: 68,720
- Deaths: 8,650
Anyone can get skin cancer, but those at higher risk have:
- A lighter natural skin color.
- A personal or family history of skin cancer.
- Exposure to the sun through work and play.
- A history of sunburns early in life.
- Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun.
- Blue or green eyes.
- Blonde or red hair.
How can I reduce my chances of getting skin cancer?
Sunscreen: Wear sunscreen daily, all year round, especially during midday hours (10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.), when UV rays are strongest and do the most damage. UV rays can reach you on cloudy days as well as sunny days. UV rays also reflect off surfaces like water, cement, sand, and snow.
Don't tan: Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. The UV rays from them are as dangerous as the UV rays from the sun. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a working group of the World Health Organization, has added ultraviolet radiation (UVR)-emitting tanning devices — tanning beds — to the list of the most dangerous forms of cancer-causing radiation. (2)
Aging: In addition to reducing your risk of developing skin cancer, protecting oneself from UV radiation also slows down the extrinsic aging process and thereby would lessen one’s need later in life (30+ years of age) to seek help to rid the skin of wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, sun damage and so on. Much of the damage we do to our skin happens before we are 18 years old! What a great gift to our children to educate them about the effects of UV radiation (from sunlight and tanning beds) and to help them preserve the beautiful, healthy skin they were born with!
Dermatologist: I recommend visiting your dermatologist once a year to get a full body “spot” check. During your facials appointment I will always mention anything that I think is suspicious and should be checked out by your doctor.
ABCDs of Melanoma:
- A - Asymmetry (irregular shape)
- B - Border (irregular border)
- C - Color (irregular color pattern)
- D - Diameter (larger than 1 cm or the head of an eraser on a pencil)
The Light Spectrum
Ultraviolet C (UVC) – 100nm – 290nm These wavelengths are the shortest ultraviolet rays, extending from 100 nm to 290 nm, and are the most carcinogenic, but rarely reach the Earth’s surface.
Ultraviolet B (UVB) – 290nm to 320nm These are the intermediate wavelengths of ultraviolet rays, and cause the initial appearance of redness, commonly called “sunburn”. SPF only rates the UVB.
Ultraviolet A (UVA) – 320nm – 400nm These long UVA wavelengths, (near-UV) were once thought essentially harmless, contributing only to a “healthy tan”, but represent 90% of harmful ultraviolet rays reaching the Earth’s surface.
Visible Light 400nm – 760nm Nearly 50% of the sun’s radiation, reaching us at sea level, is within the visible range.
Infrared – “IR” greater than 760nm to 1,000,000nm Infrared goes from above 760nm to infinity (?), but most of the energy is from 760nm to about 1800nm, comprising more than 40% of the sun’s rays reaching us at sea level.
The sun's UV rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes. Put on sunscreen before you go outside, even on slightly cloudy or cool days. Don't forget to put a thick layer on all parts of exposed skin. A shot glass full of sunscreen is adequate to cover most bodies. Get help for hard-to-reach places like your back.
1 - National Cancer Institute website
2 - CDC website