Many people believe that those who have tans look healthier and more attractive. But the opposite is true. Besides causing skin cancer, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light causes most of the skin changes that make us look older as we age.
The sun’s toll on your skin includes wrinkles, loss of elasticity, dry skin, and various types of age spots that could potentially become cancerous.
A Trio of Cancers
Skin cancer is the greatest threat posed by sun exposure. The most common type of cancer in the United States, skin cancer includes:
- Basal cell carcinoma. Although very treatable, it often recurs. As many as half the patients diagnosed with basal cell cancer will develop a new skin cancer within five years.
- Squamous cell carcinoma. Representing about 20 percent of skin cancers, this begins in cells just beneath the outermost level of your epidermis. It’s more likely than basal cell cancer to invade fatty tissues just beneath the skin and spread.
- Melanoma. This represents less than 2 percent of skin cancers, and the American Cancer Society estimates that it will cause more than 9700 deaths in 2014. If not found and treated early, it’s much more likely to spread.
Seeing the Light
To reduce your risk for skin cancer and to keep your skin looking younger, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends that you be “sun-smart”:
- Cover all exposed skin with a liberal amount of a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. “Broad-spectrum” guards against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Reapply about every two hours, even if it’s cloudy, and after swimming or sweating.
- Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses.
- Seek shade when you can. Remember that the sun’s rays are strongest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Protect children by making sure they play in the shade, wear protective clothing, and apply sunscreen.
- Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand. They reflect and worsen the damaging rays of the sun, increasing the odds of sunburn.
- Get vitamin D through a healthy diet that may include supplements. While sun exposure can help your body make vitamin D, the AAD warns this could worsen your risk for cancer.
- Avoid tanning beds. Consider using a self-tanning product to achieve a natural looking tan without the harmful exposure to UV light.
- Check your birthday suit on your birthday. If you see anything on your skin changing, growing, or bleeding, see a dermatologist.
“What are the key statistics for melanoma skin cancer?” American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/skincancer-melanoma/detailedguide/melanoma-skin-cancer-key-statistics
Data show incidence of skin cancer rising at alarming rate. American Academy of Dermatology, www.aad.org/stories-and-news/news-releases/data-show-incidence-of-skin-cancer-rising-at-alarming-rate.
“Skin Care and Aging.” Age Page, National Institute on Aging. http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/skin-care-and-aging#skin.
“Vitamin D.” Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health, ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitamind.
“What are basal and squamous cell skin cancers?” Learn About Cancer, American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org/cancer/skincancer-basalandsquamouscell/detailedguide/skin-cancer-basal-and-squamous-cell-what-is-basal-and-squamous-cell.
“What is melanoma?” American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org/Cancer/SkinCancer-Melanoma/OverviewGuide/melanoma-skin-cancer-overview-what-is-melanoma.
“Understanding Skin Cancer.” American Academy of Dermatologists, www.aad.org/spot-skin-cancer/understanding-skin-cancer.