Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in our country. At the same time it is often preventable and highly curable when it is diagnosed early. As a dermatologist and Mohs surgeon , specially trained to diagnose and treat skin cancer, I was amazed on a recent vacation to the beach with my family to see sun bathers oblivious to the damage to their skin. Of special concern to me were children without hats or other protection outdoors for hours because there is strong evidence that sunburns early in life can lead to melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, in adulthood.
One dangerous misconception that leads to often life threatening cases of skin cancer is that people with darker pigmented cannot get skin cancer. Some doctors and other healthcare professionals fall prey to this belief. While the incidence of one type of melanoma, Acral Lentiginous Melanoma, which is most common in blacks and Asians, is not clearly related to sun exposure, people of color must follow the same steps as other skin types to safeguard themselves from the skin cancer.
We are bombarded with publicity showing wrinkle free, healthy looking celebrities photographed scantily clad frolicking on a yacht or beach with seeming disregard for the glaring sun overhead. They look so good and we want to have that healthy glow, too. But the fact remains that looking good due to a rose-y glow from the sun is not healthy. In addition to the danger of skin cancer, sun exposure is the major cause of dark age spots, facial lines, crow’s feet, and frown lines.
So here’s a simple primer to remind all of us to take care of ourselves in the face of a national epidemic.
It’s so easy to take the proven steps we know protect us. The Skin Cancer Foundation guidelines are
simple and easy to follow. Here they are:
Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
- Do not burn.
- Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside.Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
- Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
- See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.
Remember what our mothers taught us, an ounce—in this case two—of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Let’s also get on the band wagon to support a recently introduced bill in Congress that will make the finest sunscreen ingredients—long available in Europe—available in the US. The bill entitled the Sunscreen Innovation Act (H.R. 4250/S. 2141) will alleviate the current 12 year backlog of sunscreen ingredients awaiting approval in the US. Contact your representative in the House of Representatives and ask for support of H.R. 4250 and contact your Congressman in the Senate to support S.2141. More information as well as a letter writing campaign is available on the Skin Cancer Foundation website here.