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How You’re Unknowingly Increasing Your Risk of Skin Cancer

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Dr. Deborah Youhn, Skin Wellness

My patients often ask me what they can do to prevent skin cancer, and I always tell them that one of the easiest ways is simply taking care of themselves while in the sun. From knowing which sunscreen to buy, to how to use it properly, there are many misconceptions out there that leave many at risk of developing skin cancer, even when they have the best of intentions.

Below I share my top five recommendations for staying protected in the sun and reducing your risk of skin cancer.

  1.    Check for These Labels Every Time You Buy Sunscreen

Broad Spectrum – We often call UVB rays, burning rays and UVA, aging rays since they penetrate deeper into the skin, but both have the ability to cause skin cancer. A broad spectrum sunscreen is going to block both types of UV rays, making it the best choice.

SPF 30 or Higher – You should always use SPF 30 or greater. Applied properly, SPF 30 will block 97% of UVB rays. The reality though is that we don’t always apply that full recommended ounce of sunscreen, with most of us using less than half that. In this case, using 30 SPF and applying it too thinly, isn’t going to give you the coverage you need. That’s where using a higher SPF can come into play and be a better option. But remember, if you use a higher SPF, it doesn’t mean you have to apply it less often.

Water Resistant – Sunscreens are no longer labeled waterproof as that was misleading to consumers. They’re now labeled water resistant for up to either 40 or 80 minutes, meaning the sunscreen protects your skin up to the time listed on the label while sweating or swimming. So, in general, you should reapply sunscreen every two hours, after toweling off, and after sweating or being in water.

  1.    Avoid Combination Products

While I have many patients ask about certain ingredients such as vitamin A (Retinyl palmitate), we don’t have any studies that show it increases skin cancer in humans. Vitamin A isn’t a sunscreen but is rather used for cosmetic purposes. Though if it’s something that concerns you, it’s easy to avoid.  

As far as nanoparticle-size ingredients, there have been many studies on it, and as long as the skin is intact, it doesn’t penetrate the skin even if sunburned. The main purpose of these super micronized particles is to help with more even coverage, better sun protection, and less white film on the skin.  

My concern with ingredients is when it comes to some combination sunscreen products that have insect repellent. These I don’t recommend. With sunscreen, you need a lot of it applied often, but bug repellant you only need a small amount and not nearly as many applications.  

  1.    Choose a Lotion over a Spray on Sunscreen

As a parent, I understand it’s easier to spray sunscreen on the kids as they’re running out the door, but I don’t recommend it. This is because the effects of inhaling sunscreen are still unclear. Along with that concern, lotions are preferred because you’re able to measure how much you’re applying, ensuring you’re using an adequate amount.

That being said, if you do use a spray on, do it in a ventilated area, and if you’re outside, pay attention to which way the wind is blowing. If you’re applying to the upper body, like the face or chest, spray it in your hands before applying. Of course, either way, you still need to rub it in to be effective.

  1.    Begin Applying Sunscreen to Children Over Six Months

If your child is less than six months old, you should avoid sunscreen since babies have thinner, more sensitive skin, making them more likely to have a reaction. In this case, you should keep them in the shade, put on a hat and protect exposed skin. If they’re older than six months, use a zinc oxide or titanium dioxide sunscreen. These types of mineral sunscreens sit on the skin and deflect UVA and UVB rays and are less likely to cause an allergic reaction. Same thing goes for adults with sensitive skin.

  1.    Don’t’ Make These Common Mistakes

Along with choosing the right sunscreen, there are other things we often forget when it comes to staying safe in the sun. For example, if you’re near water, sand or snow, rays can reflect and make it more likely you’ll end up with a sunburn. Same goes with it being cold or cloudy, we tend to not feel the heat from the sun and therefore think there’s no need to apply sunscreen though that couldn’t be further from the truth. Also, no matter your skin type, you should use sunscreen since people of all skin types get skin cancer.

Finally, put sunscreen on fifteen minutes before going outside, and try to avoid the sun between 10am and 2pm, as that’s when it’s the strongest. And don’t forget about other places like your lips, ears, and tops of your feet. It’s easy to get a lip balm with SPF. Last but definitely not least, steer clear of tanning beds. They’re carcinogenic and increase the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma.

Contact Skin Wellness Center of Alabama in Birmingham Today

Reducing the risk of skin cancer really can be as simple as taking care of yourself while under the sun. Of course, if you have any spots or lesions concerning you, contact Skin Wellness Center of Alabama today to make an appointment with one of our medical professionals.