Skin Cancer Awareness Month: what you need to know

Taylor Burnfield 

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     Summer is approaching, which means warmer weather and more time spent outside. The month of May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and the state of Colorado has the highest per-capita rate of skin cancer of any state.  

     If you want to have fun in the sun this summer while still maintaining your skin’s health, this is what you need to know about skin cancer: 

Skin cancer can happen to anyone 

     There is a misconception that skin cancer only happens to light-skinned people. However, skin cancer can develop in dark-skinned people as well. Often with dark-skinned individuals, skin cancer is not detected until it is too late, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD).  

     Bob Marley, the famous Jamaican musician, died of skin cancer in 1981.  

Protect yourself year-round  

     Some may mistakenly believe that they only need to wear sunscreen during the summer months. However, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays are present throughout the year and is a leading cause of most types of skin cancers. Even during the winter months, sunlight can reflect off snow and can cause skin damage, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. 

Sunburns and suntans are signs of skin damage  

     Sunburns and even suntans are your skin’s reaction to damage caused by UV radiation. UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds cause not only skin damage but eye damage and other health problems as well. Frequent burns and tans cause a greater risk of skin cancer later in life according to the AAD.  

A man who was a truck driver for 28 years. The left side of his face was constantly exposed to UV rays through the window of his truck. Image courtesy of the New England Journal of Medicine. 

Skin cancer prevention is simple 

     According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, protect yourself from direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Be sure to wear sunscreen that protects you from both UVA and UVB rays. A sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher is recommended for everyday use and an SPF of 30 or higher is recommended if spending all day outside. Sunscreen must be applied every 2 hours if you are spending the day outdoors. 

     According to Forefront Dermatology, there are two types of sunscreens that you can use: chemical sunscreens or physical sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing UV rays before they reach your skin. Physical sunscreens act as a mirror and deflect the sun’s UV rays from your skin. 

     When applying chemical sunscreens that contain ingredients such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone, you must wait about 20 minutes before the sunscreen begins to protect you. 

     Physical sunscreens, however, protect you as soon as they are applied. Physical sunscreens are made from zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. The only downside to physical sunscreens is that they usually have a white, chalky appearance. 

     The good news is that there are a variety of sunscreens on the market now. Ranging from easy to apply sprays and sunscreen sticks, using sunscreen does not have to be messy or complicated. I personally like the Neutrogena and Alba Botanica lines of sunscreens, although you can figure out what works best for you. 

     If you notice any unusual, new or changing discolorations or moles on your skin, be sure to visit a dermatologist immediately.  

     You can find a dermatologist in your area through the AAD website. You can also learn more about skin cancer and skin cancer prevention through the Skin Cancer Foundation website.