Think you're being smart about the sun? Sure, you apply sunscreen to your face every day, or choose a moisturizer with added SPF of at least 30, but do you remember to cover the rest of your body too? Do you remember to apply it even when it's cloudy? Do you protect yourself with sunglasses and a hat when you're outdoors at a festival or at the beach? Granted, though many of us did come of age during the era of tanning beds and have now become much more aware of the dangers of sun exposure and the importance of wearing an SPF, skin cancer rates are still on the rise.
Research by the Mayo Clinic shows that two types of non-melanoma skin cancer have increased pretty significantly in recent years. They reported that squamous cell carcinoma diagnoses increased a whopping 263 percent between 2000 and 2010. And another common form of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, increased 145 percent.
Researchers found that women 30 to 49 saw the greatest increase in basal cell carcinoma (BCC) diagnoses. BCC appears like a small, pearly or waxy bump on your skin — it can look like a zit or a small mole and is usually pinkish or flesh-toned in color. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, about 4 million cases are diagnosed each year in the United States, making it the most "frequently occurring" form of skin cancer.
As for squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), it usually presents itself like a wart, and it might bleed if scratched or bumped. It's the second most common form of skin cancer. Both BCC and SCC can be removed and don't often spread past the tumor site when detected and treated early, but it's important to be aware of what you can do to prevent skin cancer in the first place. (You're not safe from the sun while driving, either, so don't forget the SPF on your next summer road trip.)
"Even though there is so much awareness about using sunscreen, most people don't use it on a daily basis," says Debra Jaliman, a dermatologist in New York City, and assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. "Since UV rays penetrate the skin every day rain or shine, it is very important to use a broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen every day. This ultraviolet light causes skin cancer."
If you're terrified of the idea of getting skin cancer but still insist on that base tan every summer, Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, Founder and Director of Capital Laser & Skin Care and Associate Clinical Professor at the Department of Dermatology at the George Washington University Medical Center, urges you to reconsider. "Every time you get tan the skin is saying 'S.O.S! I'm being damaged so I'll get darker.' There is NO level of tanning that is safe and does not cause damage to the skin. Getting a tan is getting skin damage, and that damage can come back to bite you in the form of skin cancer," she warns.
To avoid as much sun damage as possible, "avoid the sun at its strongest (between 10am and 4pm), liberally apply SPF 30 or above every two to three hours while in the sun, use a hat, sunglasses, sun-protective clothing and seek shade whenever possible," Dr. Tanzi urges.
Luckily for us, there are tons of great sunscreens on the market, from innovative spray formulas to get all those hard-to-reach areas (hello, upper back!) to easily blend-able facial sunscreens, so you don't really have an excuse not to wear it daily.
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