In case you hadn’t heard, June is now recognized as Cancer from the Sun Month, as the dangers of soaking up too many rays are now well known. That, of course, wasn’t always the case, though. A while back, for beauty’s sake, many folks fried themselves in the sun actually coated in baby oil and surrounded by reflectors. Years later: skin cancer and regret.
Even to this day and despite all the warnings, sun worshippers still abound—and that’s risky, indeed. The statistics bear that out and should have all of us covering up. After all, skin cancer is the most common of ALL cancers, accounting for nearly 50% of them here in the states. Here are the three main types:
- Pictured here, basal cell carcinoma is the most common of all cancers. Though not as deadly as melanoma, catch it early or face some major, disfiguring surgery.
- Squamous cell carcinoma tends to show up as a scaly, crusted patch that might even bleed at times; it’s the second most common form of skin cancer.
- Melanoma will present in one of several ways. Look for asymmetry, irregular borders, changes in a mole’s color, a growth ¼” in diameter or larger, or one that grows in size or changes in color or shape; pictures tell it all.
Now add these attention-getting facts:
- More than 3.5 million skin cancers are diagnosed every year in more than 2 million people.
- The treatment of non-melanoma skin cancers increased by almost 77% between 1992 and 2006.
- 20%of Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives.
- Some 2.8 million Americans are diagnosed annually with basal cell carcinoma.
- About 700,000 cases of squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed here every year.
- It’s estimated that 3,170 Americans will die this year from non-melanoma cancers.
- Somewhere between 40% and 50% of Americans who make it to 65 will get either basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma.
And then there’s melanoma:
- Cases increased by 800% among young women and 400% among young men from 1970 to 2009.
- Someone dies from melanoma every 57 minutes; about 9,480 people will die from it this year.
- An estimated 76,690 new cases of invasive melanoma will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year.
- Though accounting for less than 5% of all skin cancers, it causes the most skin cancer deaths.
- Between 2000 and 2009, incidence has been increasing 1.9% every year.
- In 2009, 876,344 people suffered from melanoma.
- It’s the most common form of cancer among our 25- to 29-year-olds and the second most common form in our 15- to 29-year-olds.
And here’s another newsflash: about 90% of non-melanoma cancers and about 86% of melanomas are associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV).
Best bet: Before heading out, don a wide-brimmed hat and protective clothing, then slather on the right sunscreen, made less confusing nowadays thanks to changes the FDA has made to the labeling:
- SPF, which stands for Sun Protection Factor, indicates how well you’ll be protected from sunburn-causing ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Your best bet is to go with a sunscreen that has at least an SPF of 30 to 50. Just so you know, SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays; SPF 30 blocks 97%; and SPF 50 blocks 98%.
- Plus, a product with an SPF of 15 or lower must now carry a warning that it only protects against sunburn, not skin aging or cancer.
- In addition, there’s now no longer any such thing as “waterproof” or “sweat proof” on sunscreen labels because all of them either wash off or wear off. Now you’ll only see “water resistant” and how frequently the product must be reapplied when swimming or after sweating.
Know, too, that to protect against both UVA and UVB rays, look for the term “broad spectrum” on the label. That’s because those UVA rays age skin, penetrating deep into its surface and damaging the underlying cells—even on cloudy days. Plus, every time you tan, you’re doing irreversible damage that you’ll truly regret as you age with sun spots, lots of wrinkles, and sometimes leathery skin, too.
As for those burning UVB rays, while more prevalent in the summer months, they’re always around and reflect off not just water but snow, too. They also cause most skin cancers, with UVA rays a lesser cause. Bottom line: use sunscreen every day regardless of the season or weather following these guidelines:
- Since it’s said that SPF 30 is the new 15, aim for a higher number, especially when the sun is at its most intense, which is between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Make sure the label says “broad spectrum,” thus protecting against both UVA and UVB rays. If not, look for either zinc or avobenzone on the ingredient list.
- Apply generously on all exposed skin—including your hands, ears, and nose, too, which happens to be the #1 sunburn, skin cancer spot!
- Reapply every couple of hours, plus after a swim or you’ve been perspiring.
And then there’s one other skin cancer culprit to note: sun tanning beds. Their UVA rays were actually once thought to be safe, but no longer. In fact, they’re on the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s Group 1 list, right there along with other such cancer-causing agents as cigarettes, radon, and plutonium. Really—and here’s why:
- Frequent users may be exposing themselves to as much as 12 times the amount of UVA rays they’d get from the sun in a year.
- One session alone ups a user’s chances of developing melanoma by 20%.
- Going 4 times a year increases the risk of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas by 15%
- First use a tanning bed before 35 and up the melanoma risk by 75%.
- Some 30 million Americans tan indoors every year—2 to 3 million of them teens.
- On any given day, some one million of us are tanning in a salon.
But in all of this, there’s actually a bit of good news, too: “Pale” is now in among Hollywood elites, triggered apparently by “the popularity of the polished far-from-the-beach looks of the women of Mad Men and Downton Abbey and the related rise of the rich, red lip, which pops best against a milky mug.”
So there you go–safe, not sorry, and attractive, too.