Skin cancer prevention tips are important for all of us at every age and for every skin color. Admittedly, I worry quite a bit about skin cancer prevention. And yes, I am “that mom” who would likely run across a soccer field just before the starting whistle if she realized that her kid wasn’t wearing sunblock.
I know. Please don’t judge me.
As you probably know, people who get a lot of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays are at a higher risk for skin cancer, which is on the rise in the United States. But did you know that more than 3.5 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer are diagnosed each year? More than 76,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest forms of skin cancer each year. That is a whole lot of people with skin cancer, and why we all need more skin cancer prevention tips and adherence.
Skin cancer prevention starts with protection from the sun’s harmful rays. Fortunately, there are some steps we can take to limit exposure to UV rays. Here’s what you need to know to help prevent skin cancer and protect yourself from the sun’s harmful UV rays:
21 Skin Cancer Prevention Tips
Now, before I start, it should be noted that there is no guarantee here that you won’t get skin cancer. Some of us are learning these skin cancer prevention tips, or putting them into practice, at a time when the damage may have already been done. We can, however, do our best to protect ourselves from here on out. So let’s do this:
Stay in the shade.
Let’s start with the most obvious point. Staying in the shade while outside whenever possible is probably the best way to limit UV exposure and prevent skin cancer from occurring.
Avoid tanning beds and sun lamps.
And in the second place for obvious tips… Tanning lamps and beds generally give off both UVA and usually UVB rays, both of which can cause long-term skin damage, and can contribute to skin cancer. Tanning bed use has been linked with an increased risk of melanoma, so go with the pale chic look instead.
Go outside early or late in the day.
UV light is strongest between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm. If you are unsure how strong the sun’s rays are, just look at your shadow. If your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun’s rays are the strongest, and it’s important to protect yourself.
Your clothes provide different levels of UV protection, but your should still cover as much skin as possible. Dark colors, tightly woven fabrics, and dry fabrics are generally the most protective. Some companies now make clothing that protects against UV exposure even when wet, and those may be a great investment if you spend a lot of time outdoors.
Use sunscreen, but not just any old sunscreen.
Conventional/chemical sunscreens rely on chemical ingredients to absorb the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. These chemicals have been shown to cause hormone disruption and can break down over time into free radicals which may cause skin cancers, which is exactly what we are trying to avoid! For example, most chemical sunscreens use Oxybenzone, the potentially toxic chemical that is absorbed into the bloodstream, has been linked to endocrine disruption, and is known to be especially dangerous for children.
On the other hand, natural sunscreen uses only natural ingredients and minerals to block the sun’s rays. Look for natural sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to block the sun’s rays. Natural sunscreen is also effective in blocking sun immediately, while conventional sunscreen must be applied 15-20 minutes before sun exposure. Also look for products that are free of phthalates and parabens, which can be hidden in the ingredient list as “fragrance.”
Check expiration dates.
Sunscreen does not stay effective forever, so check the expiration dates on your products. Additionally, sunscreens that have been exposed to heat for long periods may be less effective. If your products were kept in a hot car, it may be time to purchase new ones.
Apply sunscreen properly and generously.
Apply about a teaspoon of sunscreen to your face and about a palm-full (1 ounce) to your body. Ideally, no less than one ounce of sunscreen should be used to cover exposed areas of the body. Pay close attention to your ears, neck, arms, eyelids, feet (the bottoms too), lips and any other areas not covered by clothing. Many experts recommend wearing sunscreen under your clothing daily.
Sunscreen should be reapplied at least every two hours. Studies show that daily text-message reminders to reapply sunscreen are effective in increasing sunscreen use. Also, sunscreen can wash off when you sweat, swim, or wipe yourself off with a towel, so remember to reapply immediately afterwards for optimal protection.
And remember that even with proper sunscreen use, some UV rays still get through, so it is important to also use other forms of sun protection, such as the ones mentioned here
Wear a hat.
Preferably a hat with a wide brim to protect areas around the head that are often exposed to intense sun. If you can find one with a dark, non-reflective underside to the brim that can also lessen the UV rays that reach the face by bouncing off of reflective surfaces. Also, remember that a baseball cap protects top of the head and the forehead, but not the neck or the ears, both of which are common areas for skin cancer.
Protect your eyes and skin around them by wearing sunglasses. Be sure your sunglasses have UVA and UVB protections, which should filter at least 80% of the sun’s rays. If the label says that the glasses have UV absorption up to 400 nm or that it meets ANSI UV requirements, it means that the glasses will block at least 99% of UV rays. When shopping for sunglasses, keep in mind that large-framed and wraparound sunglasses are more likely to protect your eyes from light coming in from different angles.
Stay away from long exposure to windows.
Believe it or not, some UV rays can also pass through windows. (If you have ever had a sofa or cabinets that lightened up from the sun passing through a skylight or windows, you know what I mean.) UV radiation from windows doesn’t likely pose a high risk to most people. However if you spend long periods of time, such as your work day, near a window, you may want to rethink the location of your desk.
There are 1,000 reasons why smoking is not the smartest of ideas, and skin cancer is one of them. Smoking more than triples the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma, one of the most common forms of skin cancer. Current smokers are over three times more likely as non-smokers to develop skin cancer. Former smokers are almost twice as likely as non-smokers to get skin cancer. And the more you smoke, the more your likelihood increases.
Get your antioxidants.
Common extracts found in fruits, green leafy vegetables, red wine, and green tea may have significant clinical benefits in decreasing risk for skin cancer. Certain nutrients, especially phytochemicals, improve skin’s ability to ward off damage. One study found that lycopene (a pigment in red fruits and vegetables) may prevent UV damage. Another study found that applying pomegranate extract onto the skin inhibited increases in certain skin cancers. And yet another study found that people taking a supplement with alpha-and beta-carotenoids (in orange and yellow produce) were less likely to have skin damage after UV exposure.
Or smear it on your face. It is known that a diet heavy in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli sprouts, has shown potential risk-reduction properties for various forms of cancer. Sulforaphane, a naturally occurring compound in broccoli with established chemopreventive properties, could also possibly be used to help patients reduce their risk for skin cancer. Studies are being done right now to determine the level of effectiveness when sulforaphane is applied to their skin. We may soon be seeing sulforaphane as an ingredient in natural sunscreens.
Limit exposure to metals.
Metal alloys (including nickel, cobalt and chromium) are commonly used to help make orthopedic implants stronger and more durable. (I myself have two pins in my foot from a surgery twenty years ago.) In rare cases, patients with allergies to metals can develop skin rashes after these metals are implanted near the skin. Well, new research suggests these folks may be also at increased risk of an unusual and aggressive form of skin cancer.
Know your medication precautions.
If you’re taking a medication, you may need to take additional precautions when in the sun. Many widely used medications can cause an increased sensitivity to light in some individuals. Some of the more commonly used medications that have light sensitivity include some antihistamines, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and antibiotics.
Coffee consumption has shown to have a protective effect against malignant melanoma skin cancers. Coffee intake was inversely associated with a risk of malignant melanoma, with a 20% lower risk for those who consumed 4 cups per day or more.
It has long been known that regular exercise can decrease the risk of certain cancers. Additionally, the combined effects of exercise plus caffeine consumption may be able to ward off skin cancer and also prevent inflammation related to other obesity-linked cancers.
Hold on to your coffee.
Your morning cup of Joe may not only be helpful when you drink it. Don’t have sunscreen on you? Until you get to the store to pick some up, you can let your morning coffee cool and put it on your face. Yes, you read that right! A Rutgers study showed that when applied directly to the skin, caffeine can help prevent damaging UV light from causing skin cancer. It can’t stop you from burning though, so get to the store and buy yourself some more sunscreen!
Protect yourself all year round.
Some of us think about sun protection when we spend a day beach or pool, but forget about exposure in different settings. Yet summer time is not the only time to stay protected. While the strength of UV rays can change based on the time of year, UV rays reach the ground all year long. Don’t assume that cloudy days mean no rays. Even on cloudy or hazy days, those UV rays are reaching the ground.
Call your doctor.
Get regular skin exams so that no potential cancer cells go unnoticed. Skin exams every 6 months or more are essential for anyone with a history of skin cancer. Everyone else should get an annual exam. But don’t wait for your annual exam if you have a suspicious mole. Get it checked now.
Here comes the sun.
Here comes the sun.
And I say, “It’s alright.”
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