Your Skin and the Sun

The warm weather is here and summer is just around the corner which makes it fitting that May is National Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month.  And today, May 6th is Melanoma Monday.  It’s that time we shed the long sleeves and pants for tank tops and shorts.  But exposing our skin doesn’t mean leaving it unprotected.  Now is the time to add sunscreen to our routine.  Hopefully, you are already using a daily SPF on your face.  If not, it’s time to add that to your routine as well.

Even with all the knowledge we have about how harmful (and potentially deadly) the sun can be, it never ceases to amaze me how many people continue to sunbathe, use tanning beds and/or never use sun protection.  We can drastically reduce our chances of developing skin cancer simply by using sunscreen and avoiding unnecessary exposure.  Besides, who wants to have their skin exposed to the sun’s harmful rays?   How many times have you seen an older man or woman and thought “wow, her skin looks like aged leather…”  According to Dr. Peter T. Pugliese’s Physiology of the Skin, “at least 90% of the age-associated cosmetic problems (photoaging) of the skin are due to excessive sun exposure.”  The other 10% happens merely by getting older.

What happens at the cellular level

OK, let’s get nerdy.  We usually think that getting some sun means your skin gets some color.  People with fair skin tend to burn and those with darker skin usually tan.  Sometimes you burn and then it turns into a tan.  But either way, the skin changes color.  Did you ever think why?  Our skin cells contain melanin and its function is to protect the deeper layers of skin.  When our skin is exposed to sun, skin cells produce even more melanin to block the sun’s UV rays from getting to the cell’s nucleus (which contains genetic material and controls the cells growth and reproduction).  It’s the increased production of melanin that causes the burn or tan.  Isn’t that frightening?  To think that our cells inherently know that sun exposure will harm our cells so the melanin takes control to prevent the damage.  Unfortunately, they can only do so much which is why daily sunscreen use is so important.  Too much sun exposure can cause skin cells to mutate and grow out of control.  This is skin cancer.

Skin cancer facts

  • Skin cancer is the most common cancer with approximately 3.5 million cases diagnosed each year.

  • Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are the most common skin cancers and can be cured if diagnosed early.

  • Between 40% and 50% of Americans who live to age 65 will have either skin cancer at least once.

  • Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer.  This year, 76,690 new melanomas will be diagnosed.

  • The rates for melanoma have been rising for the past 30 years.

  • Melanoma can occur in both younger and older people and though they are highest among those in their 80’s, it is not uncommon for women under 30 to be diagnosed.

  • If melanoma is diagnosed early, before the tumor has penetrated the skin, the survival rate is about 97%.  Once the cancer has spread, the survival rate drops to 15%.

Now is the time to stock up on sunscreen

Do’s and don’ts

  • Avoid direct sun exposure between 10 am and 2 pm.

  • Seek shade and cover up with a hat, sunglasses, and protective clothing if you must be outside during the middle of the day.

  • Wear a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher on your face every day.  It can be a moisturizer, foundation or both.

  • Don’t forget to protect the lips, tops of ears, back of neck, hands & feet.

  • Use 1 full ounce of sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher to cover the body when you’re at the pool or beach.  That means an 8 ounce bottle will last 8 applications.

  • Reapply every 2 hours.

  • Once opened, throw out unused sunscreen after one year.  Make sure you label the bottle so you know when it’s time to toss.

Melanoma is a cancer that has unfortunately hit close to home.  My sister-in-law, Diane passed away from melanoma over 6 years ago.  She was diagnosed at age 36 and fought it for 8 years.  Melanoma and skin cancer can happen to anyone.  Please take a few minutes to protect your skin.  It could save your life.

For more information about skin cancer and melanoma, please visit the American Cancer Society’s website.

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2 responses to “Your Skin and the Sun

  1. I’m amazed, I have to admit. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s both educative
    and engaging, and without a doubt, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The issue is an issue that not enough folks are speaking intelligently about. I’m very happy I found this during my hunt for something concerning
    this.

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