Birthday Suit Basics

It wouldn’t be summer without a bright red back that says “I fell asleep in the sun”.  We’ve all done it.  But did you know that just one burn during you lifetime doubles your risk of melanoma (skin cancer)?

sun damage

There are many kinds of skin cancers. Melanoma is the most deadly and it affects both young and old.  Melanoma is a cancer that affects the  skin cells that give your skin its color.  Getting regular unprotected exposure to the sun or laying in a tanning bed “excites” these cells leading to higher risk of those cells developing into cancer.

When melanoma spreads to a distant part of your body, it means you only have a 15% chance of surviving 5 years.  It is the most common form of cancer in people aged 25 -29.

Some individual risk factors for skin cancer

  • fair skin–the darker color your skin is, the better you can tolerate the UV rays
  • blue, green or hazel eyes
  • light-colored  or red hair
  • tendency to burn rather than suntan
  • history of severe sunburns- even just one
  • many moles
  • freckles
  • a family history of skin cancer

What does a suspicious mark look like?

skin cancer

It's gross, but you have to look for moles that look like this

In 1985, researchers at NYU in New York created an easy way for people to remember what to look for when looking for skin cancer. Just remember A B C D E
  • A – asymmetry:  if you divided the mole in half, would the two halves look the different?
  • B – border:  are the edges blurry, uneven or irregular?
  • C – color:  is the mole many shades of browns, tans or blacks?
  • D – diameter: is the mole larger than the head of a pencil eraser?
  • E – evolving:  has the mole changed either in color, size or shape?  Has it started bleeding or crusting?
If you have any one of the descriptions above, have it checked out.
It’s important to check you entire body at least once a year (check your birthday suit on your birthday!)  Have your partner check the places you can’t, or use a mirror.  Leave no stone unturned….in between toes, scalp, behind ears….(hey, it might even be fun…)
 In men, melanoma most often shows up:
  • on the upper body, between the shoulders and hips
  • on the head and neck

In women, melanoma often develops

  • on the lower legs.

In dark-skinned people, melanoma often appears:

  • under the fingernails or toenails
  • on the palms of the hands
  • on the soles of the feet
…but it can appear anywhere you have skin.
If you want to protect your skin from the ravages of the sun, sunscreen is the logical answer. (A better solution is covering up and avoiding the sun, but that’s just not as realistic.)
The American Academy of Dermatology  recommends that everyone apply sunscreen with  SPF 30 or higher  every day even if it’s cloudy.   But less than 20% of Americans follow that rule!

It is important to find a sunscreen that is free of chemical preservatives and substances that could effect your health, like “nano”-titanium dioxide, “ultrafine” titanium dioxide, and parabens, especially when using sunscreen on children. (You should generally avoid any product that has “nano-particles” as they are absorbed rapidly into the skin and can affect cell formation leading to cancer.)  Zinc oxide and non-altered titanium dioxide are safer choices.   Click here  for some natural sunscreen choices.
I have used Badger sunscreen in the past and it’s wonderful!  It contains only natural ingredients and no chemical preservatives.
organic sunscreen
Please protect your kids!!  We often don’t think about applying sunscreen to kids unless we are at the beach, but just one burn to a child doubles the risk of developing skin cancer later in life.  Kids need protection every day! It’s a good habit to get into applying sunscreen before they go out to play.  Children should be wearing at least SPF 30, and it should protect against UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreen should be applied every 2 hours or after swimming.  Again, watch for chemical preservatives and nano particles.
What’s the difference between UVA and UVB?
…other than one letter?
UVA (ultraviolet A): these aren’t the rays that give you that sunburn on your back. UVA rays penetrate deeply into your skin and do longterm damage like wrinkles, and “leather-skin”. UVA may directly cause melanoma.
UVB (ultraviolet B): these short wave rays are mostly responsible for causing sunburn and are also the main cause of basal and squamous cell skin cancer (two other forms) as well as melanoma.
Needless to say, you should be wearing a sunscreen that protects from both.
What’s with SPF?
SPF means “sun protection factor”.  It reflects how long you can go out in the sun before you start to burn.  SPF of at least 30 is recommended for everyone. Any higher than SPF 30 only block an additional 4% more UVB.  It won’t hurt to use a higher SPF, though,  and it adds a margin of error if you aren’t applying the sunscreen as often or as heavily as you should.

Want skin like an elephant? Then get your daily dose of UVA!

But I want to look tan
I know we all want that “healthy glow”.
But tanning beds are just as dangerous (if not more so) than lying on the beach.  One dermatologist refers to tanning beds as “suicide beds”.
Last year, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) weighed in, concluding that indoor tanning does cause melanoma. You are 75% more likely to get melanoma if you use a tanning bed regularly and the risk increases with more use.
Considering there are more tanning salons than Starbucks in cities today, it is no wonder that melanoma is the fastest growing cancer, increaing by the rate of 2% each year since 1997.
There’s nothing wrong with “faking it”.  There are wonderful tanning lotions on the market.  There are even one’s with sunscreen built in.  If you want the tan, get it the healthy way.  Here’s one that is recommended by Gorgeously Green (one of my favorite healthy products reference books).
Here are some more fun sun facts:
  • the sun is strongest between 10a and 4p, so try to remember to take precautions during these hours: avoid direct sun, have children play in the shade, etc.
  • protect your eyes with UV light blocking sunglasses
  • wear hats
  • use extra caution near water, snow and sand because they reflect light and can intensify the damaging rays of the sun.
  • you still need protection in a car as window glass is not sun protective.
You can still have fun in the sun, just remember the sunscreen!

Categories: health, health and wellness

Tags: , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. My husband is a glaringly white young man who only has to think about the sun to get a scorching burn! I would rather him in his rash vest, with zinc on his nose and sunscreen an inch thick on his body than to not have him around anymore. As we say in Australia, “Slip! Slop! Slap!” (Slip on a shirt, Slop on some sunscreen and Slap on a hat!)

  2. Just in response to Kemi. Some people are amazed that dark skinned people are still at risk of melanoma. The most common type of melanoma in dark skinned people is called acral melanoma, which is melanoma found on the palms and soles of the feet, obivously where dark skinned people are paler. A famous example is that of Bob Marley who died from metastatic melanoma from a subungual melanoma (a rare type of melanoma that forms under the nail). Thanks.

  3. Gosh…the leathery skin scared me.

    I am guilty of not using sunblock but luckily I don’t every burn due to melanin. Or so I think…..But I guess I am kidding myself.

    • Those with darker skin, or those who tan easily are certainly at a lower risk than those that burn, and that sounds like it may be you. The recommendation is still the same for everyone…….

      I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the hysterical movie “There’s Something About Mary” with Cameron Diaz, but there’s a character in that movie that looks like this. She’s a sun worshiping senior citizen, and she is scary!

  4. Hi great post keep spreading the word about caring for your skin. The ABCDE criteria does have some small failures as melanomas can be very small, smaller than the head of an eraser, some melanomas can be amelanotic that is without pigmentation and other melanomas can evolve de novo that is with no pre-existing lesion. Everyone should be vigilant in checking their skin particularly those in high risk groups such as myself being very pale skinned. Thanks

  5. I only discovered a year ago on a trip to Florida that black folks like me can get sun burned too!! So for the first time in my life, we’ve got sunscreen everywhere in te house and even in my kids’ school bag.

    Who knew?

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