Is the sunshine beckoning you outside? It’s okay to oblige — just don’t forget your sunscreen.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The three main types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma (the most aggressive and deadly type).
Dr. Christ J. Ticoras, dermatologist on the medical staff of OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital, said the risk of getting skin cancer is decreased and possibly preventable by decreasing exposure to natural sunlight and eliminating the use of tanning beds.
“Ultraviolet radiation from the sun and tanning beds is the most preventable skin cancer risk factor,” he said.
Because exposure to ultraviolet light is the most preventable risk factor, Ticoras urges everyone to protect their skin by applying and reapplying (every two hours) sunscreen or sunblock if out in direct sunlight, seeking shade and wearing protective clothing.
There are two different kinds of sunscreen: chemical blockers and physical blockers. Ticoras recommends the latter, specifically sunscreens that contain either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
“Those don’t get absorbed, so they’re literally physically blocks,” he said. “They sit on the surface of our skin and they provide a physical block just like an umbrella would provide shade to us.”
Not sure which SPF to get? Ticoras recommends at least 30 SPF, and depending on the individual’s complexion and history of skin cancer or pre-cancer, up to a 70 SPF.
Though studies say anything greater than 45 SPF is really of no benefit, Ticoras said, “I don’t think any of us put it on as thick as the original study patients, so that’s why I recommend up to a 70.”
Make sure to apply a thin coat and cover all sun-exposed areas.
Ticoras said he’s “not a big spray fan,” as several factors can inhibit its effectiveness, including the distance from which it's sprayed onto the skin (especially if it’s sprayed outside on a windy day). Further, many people spray a light mist and then neglect to rub it in.
If you’re planning a trip to the pool, make sure to reapply sunscreen after getting wet.
Also, bear in mind that UV rays penetrate through clouds, meaning you can get sunburn on a cloudy day.
Wearing cosmetic products like concealer or moisturizer with an SPF of 15 or higher is fine if you aren’t going to be in direct sunlight for longer than 30 minutes; however, if you plan to be in the sun longer than that, be sure to apply sunscreen over top, Ticoras said.
While people with darker complexions statistically have lower incidence of skin cancer, they still need to use sunscreen.
Ticoras recommends checking your skin for signs of skin cancer once a month.
He tells patients any mole or growth that is growing, itching, bleeding or changing color that won’t heal should be brought to the attention of your primary care doctor or dermatologist. The warning signs of melanoma (the most serious form of skin cancer), can be identified by using the ABCDE rules for looking at a mole/spot/growth.
- Asymmetry: one half of the spot doesn’t match the other half
- Border: the edges of the spot are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred
- Color: there are multiple colors within one spot (brown, black, red, white, etc.)
- Diameter: melanomas are usually greater than 6 millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser), but they can be smaller
- Evolving: look for a spot that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color
You can always see a dermatologist if you’re unsure about a spot. Ticoras advises getting screened yearly, especially if you have a family history of skin cancer and if you’re over 40.