Summer sun safety: How to avoid skin cancer

Summer is officially here, and many of us are enjoying outdoor activities and lots of time in the sun at the beach or pool. While sun exposure is important for many reasons – for example, production of Vitamin D, your mood and healthy circadian rhythms – our time in the sun can also be associated with a significant health risk: cancer.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the most common type of cancer in the U.S. is skin cancer, and the two most common types are basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer. Both of these are serious and require prompt treatment, but survival rates are quite good with therapy. However, melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – has a far worse prognosis.

RELATED: Top 10 Guide To Summer Skin Care

Top 10 Guide To Summer Skin Care
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Top 10 Guide To Summer Skin Care
Even those short walks to lunch or running errands can put you at risk of too much sun exposure. Adding a healthy layer of face protecting sunscreen to your morning beauty routine is a critical don’t-skip-it step. Today’s advanced formulas combine powerful protection with an almost weightless feel so your makeup layers on silky smooth. Look for lotions enhanced with antioxidants for an extra skin-health boost.

While we never need an excuse to buy a new lipstick, sun protection for your lips means mandatory shopping! Whatever your color choice (we love everything from nude to red hot!), look for lip care with an SPF of at least 15. And consider lip balm vs. gloss for the summer, as balms tend to hydrate more and stay on longer.

When it comes to your body, Mother Nature knows best! Seasonal summer foods like watermelon, leafy greens, and berries have a higher concentration of water to help you stay hydrated in the heat. In addition to drinking your daily in-take of water, it’s healthy and smart to indulge in fresh, water rich foods. So go ahead and enjoy watermelon – it’s 91% water!

Summer’s best accessory:  a sun kissed glow. But it’s just not great for your skin, given the dangers of sunbathing. Salon spray tans, administered by a technician with an airbrush-type applicator, are an alternative, but weekly near-naked visits cost time and money.  Thankfully you can get a sexy-sun-kissed look in the privacy of your own bathroom with salon-worthy results. The latest self-tanners offer spray mist application so you don’t have to worry about silly streaks or serious dry time. Bronzed and beautiful, your white sleeveless dress is calling your name.

Daily facials not in the cards? A gentle, daily exfoliating routine is your next best bet in the quest for softer, smoother, clearer skin. Exfoliating scrubs or soft face brushes used with gel and cream cleansers lift and wash away dead skin cells and clean out your pores for that awesome ‘facial-effect.’ And you can look in your mirror-mirror and know who is the fairest of them all.

Thanks to parasol-toting celebs like Anne Hathaway, Jessica Biel, and Cameron Diaz, pretty parasols keep trying to make a come back. In truth a little sun exposure is beneficial. But when a little becomes too much, your face needs serious skin revival: a triple threat approach. First, wash your face with cool water and a gentle cleanser to soothe skin. Next, apply a dark spot correcting serum to diminish sunspots, then follow up with a deep-acting moisturizer to re-hydrate and help fight wrinkles. Parasol or not, start your day strong by applying sunscreen all over.

Longer days, lighter clothing, and less makeup rule the season. Since going nude is a little, um, casual, opt for an all-in-one face fix. BB creams, aka beauty balms, are the absolute ‘IT Girls’ of skincare that instantly moisturize, even skintone, boost radiance, and illuminate your face with a skin perfecting glow. Still natural, still you (only better!), this all-encompassing beauty potion is the total package.

When life is a day at the beach (or pool), start smart and apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before you head outdoors. Ideally, stand in front of your full-length mirror to make sure you don’t miss hard-to reach spots like the middle of your back and the back of your legs. Light, misty-sprays provide excellent coverage without the greasy-sticky feel. Confidently covered and perfectly protected, just grab your sunglasses, hat, magazines, and remember to reapply at least every two hours.

In addition to the obvious physical benefits, your fitness routine is a beauty ritual. Sweat, your body’s natural response to exercise, is a brilliant elixir that regulates your body temperature, releases trace amount of toxins*, and loosens dirt in your pores (that’s why you feel extra clean after your post workout shower!). Sweating also increases your circulation, improving your skin’s appearance with a healthy glow. So for extra beauty-oomph, do sweat the small stuff.  

*Discovery Health/Discovery Communications; "Exercise Your Body -- And Your Skin." WebMD. 

A sunny summer day is like a beauty challenge!  Whether it’s an impromptu picnic in the park, a walk on the beach, or a road trip (sunroof open!), think early morning or late afternoon. According to the Center for Disease Control, the sun’s most harmful rays are between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, so smart precautions like a broad-spectrum high SPF sunscreen, plenty of shade, and lots of water will make for a beautiful adventure.


It's estimated that almost 10,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. Researchers estimate that 5.4 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, were treated in the United States in 2012. This year, approximately 76,100 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed and treated – and close to 10,000 patients will die from melanoma.

It's important to note that 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths are from malignant melanoma. It's most commonly found among fair-skinned people, but people of all skin types can get it. There are pre-cancerous abnormalities that your dermatologist can detect during routine screening, and it's important to get regular skin exams. One of the most common pre-cancerous skin lesions is called an actinic keratosis, which are patches of thick, scaly or crusty skin. These are due to sun exposure as well and, if untreated, turn into squamous cell cancers about 20 percent of the time.

Since exposure to ultraviolet light – from the sun and tanning beds – is a major risk factor for melanoma and all other skin cancers and pre-cancers, wearing sunscreen should be top of the list as a prevention aid.

[See: 9 Surprising Facts About Sunscreen.]

Why Does Skin Cancer Develop in the First Place?

While we know that exposure to ultraviolet light is the culprit for most skin cancers, it's also important to understand exactly how this exposure can result in disease. Cancer of the skin occurs when the genetic code or DNA of skin cells is damaged by UV exposure and its associated radiation dose. In general, we think of a cancer as the uncontrolled growth of a particular type of cell. In the case of UV light exposure, the resultant genetic damage causes mutations that can allow for the uncontrolled growth of a particular type of skin cells, and when this occurs you develop cancer.

Skin Cancer Treatment

It's important to see a dermatologist on a yearly basis to have a comprehensive skin exam or if you notice a change in a mole or the development of a new skin abnormality. Most skin cancers can be treated and cured with local removal with either liquid nitrogen treatments or minor surgery. Some cancers – such as melanoma – may also require more extensive surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. However, early diagnosis and treatment is essential to improving all skin cancer outcomes. Additionally, removal of pre-cancerous lesions can be important to the progression of the disease over time.

[See: 7 Ways to Prevent Skin Cancer.]

Skin Cancer Prevention

The best way to prevent skin cancer in general is to cover up in the sun, plus wear sunscreen on exposed areas of skin. Choosing a sunscreen can be confusing, as there are many different types available over the counter. It's important to understand what the labels mean and what type of protection you're getting when you purchase a particular product.

Sunscreens prevent the sun's ultraviolet radiation from reaching the skin. There are two types of ultraviolet radiation: Ultraviolet A, or UVA, and Ultraviolet B, or UVB. These damage the skin and increase your risk of skin cancer. In addition, these rays also prematurely age your skin and increase your propensity for wrinkles. UVA is the longer wave UV ray that causes lasting skin damage and skin aging, and can cause skin cancer, as well. UVB is the shorter wave UV ray that causes sunburns and skin damage, and can cause skin cancer. Both of these forms of radiation are dangerous and must be avoided if at all possible.

It's important to note that sunscreens may vary greatly in their ability to protect against UVA and UVB. As a consumer, it's vital that you understand what you're buying and what type of protection the product you choose may or may not provide.

The Food and Drug Administration recently tightened restrictions on the labeling of commercially available sunscreen. For example, sunscreens may be labeled "broad-spectrum" if they provide protection against both UVA and UVB. And only broad-spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher may state that they help protect against skin cancer and early skin aging if used as directed with other sun protection measures.

When preparing for a day in the sun, it's important to use broad-spectrum sunscreens in order to protect against skin cancer – by blocking both types of ultraviolet waves.

[See: What Causes Cancer? 5 Unlikely Claims Explained.]

However, it's also important to understand that sunscreen alone is not enough to protect your skin. It's essential to practice smart sun safety habits, whether at home or while on vacation, and to take care not to burn. Remember: Sunburn is a clear sign that the DNA in your skin cells has been damaged and, over time, this can lead to skin cancer. The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention recommends:

  1. Seek shade when the sun is at its strongest.
  2. Wear sun-protective clothing, such as a wide-brimmed hat.
  3. Wear sunglasses.
  4. Avoid sun exposure in the heat of the day, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. when UV exposure risk is at its highest.

So, while summer affords us more time in the sun, make sure to protect yourself and your family from the potential dangers. Remember, sunscreen and shade are your best defense against the dangerous UV rays that cause cancer.

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Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

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