Exposure to the sun's rays is the number one cause of ageing and damaged skin. Wearing sunscreens is your best protection against skin cancer.
More than 90 percent of all skin cancers are the result of exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) radiation of the sun. In fact, a tan itself is a sign that your skin has been harmed. Blame it on the sun's UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays pass effortlessly through the ozone layer. They don't burn the skin, but can penetrate and damage the elastic fibres that rest deeper in the skin, robbing it of its spring, youthful quality.
On the other hand, UVB rays are absorbed by the ozone layer, but enough of them get through to cause serious damage such as sunburns and skin cancer. It's also been found to impair the skin's disease-fighting immune system and damage the nuclei or central controllers of surface skin cells.
Who's At Risk?
Anyone can get skin cancer. The risk is higher if you always burn, or burn easily, have fair skin and light eyes, have a history of blistering sunburns in childhood, the presence of unusual spots or many moles, a family history of skin cancer, or a previous skin cancer.
People who have an outdoor occupation are also at increased risk, as are outdoor sports enthusiasts. Additionally, anyone who spends a considerable amount of time in the sun, or lives in a sunny climate, may develop skin cancer.
So should you lay off the sun completely? No, not if you follow common-sense practices of sun protection - minimising exposure when the sun is at its peak, using a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or greater, and wearing protective clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
In the past, sunscreen has been used to protect against sunburn on the beach and in the mountains, but today, it should be seen as a daily-use skin care product to protect against the ageing of the skin and skin cancer.
It should be your daily defense against skin cancer. Not only skincare-conscious women but men, children and the elderly also should apply sunscreen whenever they go out during the day. You should apply sunscreen even on cloudy days as clouds reduce UV radiation by only 20 to 40 percent.
Sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher protect against most UVB rays and some UVA rays, but those containing titanium dioxide or Parsal 1789 offer even better protection against UVA rays.
So when you use your sunscreen, here's something to bear in mind:
- Don't skimp. For sunscreen to be truly effective, you need to apply a generous amount to cover your entire body. This means about an ounce or the amount that fills a shot glass. You're making a dangerous mistake if you wait until you're lying on your beach towel. Apply the sunscreen 15 to 20 minutes before going out in the sun because that's how long it takes for the lotion to sink into the skin and become effective.
- Cover all areas. Non-melanoma cancers occur most often on the nose, cheeks, ears forehead, and hands. So carry a stick sunscreen for spot touch-ups (on ears, on the tops of feet and ears).
- Reapply frequently. Using sunscreen does not give you the licence to stay out in the sun for long stretches of time. According to several studies, sunscreen users were actually more likely to develop cancer because they forget to reapply. Do this according to package directions and immediately after swimming or heavy sweating.
Date reviewed: 10 May 2005