5 Things You Need to Know About Skin Cancer Prevention

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.

Joyce B. Farah, dermatologist at Upstate University Hospital and at Farah Dermatology and Cosmetics in Syracuse.
Joyce B. Farah, dermatologist at Upstate University Hospital and at Farah Dermatology and Cosmetics in Syracuse.

Simply put, skin cancer or melanoma is one of the deadliest of skin cancers. In 2019, it is estimated that there will be 96,480 new cases of melanoma in the United States and 7,230 deaths from the disease, according to the Melanoma Foundation. In the U.S., melanoma continues to be the fifth most common cancer in men of all age groups.

Rates of diagnosis for the disease have increased dramatically over the past three decades, outpacing almost all other cancers. Today, it is one of the most common cancers found among young adults in the United States.

Ultraviolet rays are an invisible kind of radiation that comes from the sun, tanning beds and sunlamps. UV rays can penetrate and change skin cells.

“In the summertime, people are outside doing so many activities for long periods of time,” said Joyce B. Farah, dermatologist at Upstate University Hospital and at Farah Dermatology and Cosmetics in Syracuse. “Too much sun exposure can have harmful physical effects.”

She discusses five things people can do to reduce the risks of skin cancer.

1. Use sunscreen appropriately

Use broad spectrum sunscreen protection every time you or your child goes outside. For the best protection, apply sunscreen generously 30 minutes before going outdoors. Reapplication of sunscreen is just as important as putting it on in the first place, so re apply the same amount every two hours. The term water-resistant means that the SPF is maintained for up to 40 minutes while swimming or sweating. Very water resistant means the SPF is maintained for 80 minutes.

“People often forget behind the ears, hands, lips and your feet if you are wearing flip flops,” said Farah. “We truly stress the need for people to continue to re apply sunscreen because most patients suffer from not putting on enough sunscreen instead of putting on too much. You should make sure to get a good amount of sunscreen on your skin.”

2. Limit your sun exposure

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says rays from the sun can reach you on cloudy and hazy days, as well as bright and sunny days. UV rays also reflect off of surfaces like water, cement, sand and snow. UV rays are strongest and most harmful during midday. Experts say stay out of the sun when it is strongest — between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

“There is enough evidence that UV exposure can increase the risk of skin cancer over time,” said Farah. “When you are outside during the peak time, that can cause damage to your skin. So, if you have to garden, run or do anything that requires you to be outside for hours, you should do it before or after the recommended time.”

3. Wear some protection

Hats that shade the face, scalp, ears, and neck are easy to use and give great protection. Baseball caps are popular among kids, but they don’t protect their ears and neck. If your child chooses a cap, be sure to protect exposed areas with sunscreen. When possible, long-sleeved shirts and long pants and skirts can provide protection from UV rays. Clothes made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection. A wet T-shirt offers much less UV protection than a dry one, and darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors.

“I would recommend wearing a wide brim hat to avoid UV rays. It is easy to find in any store and that brim should be three to four inches and cover your face,” said Farah. “There are also clothes nowadays that you can buy that have sun protection material.”

4. Sit in the shade

If possible, seek shade under a tree, an umbrella or a pop-up tent. Shade trees instantly cool us down on those hot, humid summer days.

“You are not going to convince people not to enjoy the sun when they have to go through winters in Upstate New York. All I am asking is that when you go to the beach, take an umbrella with you to put in the background,” she said.

5. Sunglasses

Another area of the eye susceptible to damage from UV rays is the cornea, which is the clear, refracting membrane outside the retina. The cornea can literally be burned by UV light, leading to corneal sunburn — or keratitis. A good pair of sunglasses with UV protection helps prevent corneal sunburn, and it’s especially important to wear eye protection when using a tanning machine or while skiing.

“Having the correct UV protection sunglasses can drastically help the skin around the eyes. Sometimes people find it difficult to put sunscreen around the eyes so it allows you to get the protection you need,” Farah added.

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