Sun Safety Information
What You Should Know About Skin Cancer
According to the CDC, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US1. There are three main types of skin cancer, which are named for the skin cell where the cancer develops— Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, and Melanoma. A large body of research now provides clear evidence that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the primary risk factor for skin cancer.
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)—
The most frequently occurring form of skin cancer, BCCs are uncontrolled growths or lesions that develop in basal cells—the deepest layer of cells in our outer skin (epidermis). BCCs usually appear as open sores, red patches or pinkish growths. Although they almost never spread beyond the original tumor site, BCCs can be disfiguring if allowed to spread. 2
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)—
The second-most common form of skin cancer, SCCs are characterized by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells of the skin's upper layers. SCCs can appear as scaly red patches, open sores, elevated growths with a central depression, or warts that crust or bleed. Although not usually deadly, SCCs can be very disfiguring if left untreated. 3
Although least common, Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and will strike an estimated 87,110 people in the US in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only a fraction of melanomas come from pre-existing moles. A Cornell University study4 published in 2017, has shed new light on what causes the majority of melanomas. As with Basal Cell and Squamous carcinomas, long-term overexposure to the sun's UV radiation can safely be considered the primary risk factor for developing melanoma.
Learn how a sunburn is different than the burn from a hot object. —Courtesy Cancer Research, UK
Skin Cancer Detection
Get familiar with your skin and your own pattern of moles, freckles, blemishes, and birthmarks. Check your skin MONTHLY, and be alert to changes in the number, size, shape, or color of spots on your skin or sores that do not heal. The best time to do this simple exam is after a bath or shower. Use a full-length mirror AND a hand mirror so you can check your skin from head to toe, noting anything new.
Face the mirror—
Check your face, ears, neck, chest, and belly. Check both sides of your arms and the tops and palms of your hands.
Check the front of your thighs, shins, tops of your feet, and in between your toes. Now look at the bottom of your feet, your calves, and the backs of your thighs—first one leg, then the other. (You will need a hand mirror for the backs of your thighs.)
Use the hand mirror to check the buttocks, lower back, upper back, and the back of the neck. (It may be helpful to look at your back in a tall mirror rather than by using a hand mirror.) If you do the exam regularly, you will know what is normal for you and can feel confident. Remember the warning signs and check with your health care professional or dermatologist if you find something. The most common skin cancers—basal cell and squamous cell—often take form of a pale, wax-like, pearly nodule, a red scaly, sharply outlined patch, or a sore that does not heal. Another form of skin cancer—melanoma—often starts as a small, mole-like growth.
Ten Rules That Can Save Your Skin
AVOID INTENSE SUN, ESPECIALLY BETWEEN 10:00AM AND 4:00PM. Don’t think that sunscreen allows you to bake in the sun. Wear long sleeves, preferably a tight weave. Stay in the shade when you can. If you’re at the beach, get a beach umbrella. Find the UV Index for your location at the EPA's UV resources website.
LOOK FOR BROAD-SPECTRUM PRODUCTS RATED AT SPF15 OR HIGHER. The slightly greater protection offered by higher SPF ratings may be needed for children when a) exposure times are long, b) in extreme climates (e.g., high altitude, tropical latitudes, etc…), or c) for children who are very fair skinned. Stronger SPFs are also recommended for those who tend to scrimp on the amount of sunscreen they apply.
APPLY SUNSCREEN AT LEAST 30 MINUTES BEFORE SUN EXPOSURE. This will allow bonding-based formulas to bond to the skin. For added protection, you may also wish to consider products with titanium dioxide.
USE A GENEROUS AMOUNT OF SUNSCREEN AND RE-APPLY IT OFTEN. One-eighth (1/8) of an ounce is about right to cover all exposed skin for an average-sized child in short sleeves and shorts. Your coverage may vary. Sunscreen should be re-applied AT LEAST once during the day.
DON’T THINK THAT SUNSCREENS MAKE YOU IMMUNE TO THE SUN. To the contrary, even if you wear sunscreen and don’t burn, sun exposure can depress the immune system.
WEAR A WIDE-BRIMMED HAT AND UV-BLOCKING SUNGLASSES. Your eyes need protection as much as your skin does.
USE A LIP BALM RATED SPF 15 OR HIGHER. Lips need protection too!
AVOID SUNBURN LIKE THE PLAGUE. Ditto for sunlamps and tanning parlors.
EXAMINE YOUR SKIN ON A REGULAR BASIS. Any mole that changes shape/color/size, any sore that doesn’t heal, or any persistent patch of irritated skin or small growth may be a sign of cancer and needs to be professionally evaluated.
SUNBURN BLISTERS ARE SECOND DEGREE BURNS- SEE A DOCTOR. Remember that sunburns can look mild at first, but over a period of time, they can progress to the blister stage.