This week we move into May—Melanoma and Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. Since the majority of skin cancers are the result of UV radiation (over) exposure, the best skin cancer prevention is sun protection…and as your skin health company, it’s our job to make sure you have the information you need to keep yourself sun-safe.
The sun delivers an incredible amount of light energy to Earth. Some of it we can see because it’s on the visible light spectrum—it’s what allows us to see a white clouds against a blue sky, green grass, black crows and the myriad colors in between. But some light energy isn’t visible—the waves are either too slow or too fast to be perceived by the human eye. Ultraviolet radiation is part of the too-fast-to-see-it light spectrum.
But not all UV radiation travels at the same speed, and the frequency of UV radiation determines how it affects our skin.
UVA rays has the longest wave frequency, which makes them less intense but also better able to penetrate barriers, including the ozone layer and glass. That means that we are exposed to UVA radiation throughout the year, even inside buildings and cars. This frequency can penetrate more deeply into our skin. While it usually doesn’t cause immediate irritation like UVB rays (which is why it is the primary UV radiation used in indoor tanning beds), it does incite oxidative stress linked to abnormal cell growth.
UVB rays are shorter than UVA rays. Because of the angle at which they hit the ozone layer, they are mostly deflected during winter months. However, they are more intense, thus the primary culprits behind summertime sunburns.
Proper sun protection entails limiting UVA and UVB exposure. The most effective way to do that is to physically block skin’s direct exposure to sunlight with clothing and accessories, including:
• A broad-brimmed hat
• UV-blocking sunglasses
• Long sleeves and pants
During warmer summer months, clothing that provides physical sun protection just isn’t practical. That’s when you need to shift to chemical sun protection.
Chemical sun protection involves sun blocks and sun screens applied to the skin.
Sun block prevents UV radiation from penetrating your skin by creating a chemical barrier that reflects UV rays. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are two of the most common minerals that provide sun block protection, and these ingredients are more commonly being incorporated into mineral makeup to provide some SPF protection.
Sun screen limits the oxidative damage UV radiation can wreak on skin cells and components of the extracellular matrix by trapping UV radiation at the skin’s surface and neutralizing free radicals. Common chemical sunscreens include:
• Octyl Methoxycinnamate (OMC)
In order to provide effective sun protection, chemical blocks and screens must be applied in adequate amounts—approximately an ounce (golf ball-sized amount) to cover exposed parts of your body. You must also get sunblock/sunscreen that provides an adequate level of protection—i.e. SPF 15 or higher. (We’ll explore SPF values in depth later).
Melanoma and skin cancer prevention should not make you afraid to get out and enjoy the sunshine. Hiding from the sun can actually result in or exacerbate a vitamin D deficiency, which comes with a host of adverse health effects all its own. The key is to responsibly enjoy your sunshine.
When you know you’re going to be outside:
• Seek shade.
• Cover up (as long as it’s comfortable).
• Apply and re-apply sunblock/sunscreen liberally.
If you didn’t adequately protect yourself and you’re left red and raw, treat your sunburn and nourish sun-damaged skin with an antioxidant-rich moisturizer.
You can always eat your sun protection, too. Dark, colorful foods are rich in phytonutrients that protect plants from UV radiation, and they deliver antioxidants that can help your body do the same.
If you discover any suspicious-looking spots on your skin, see your healthcare provider. Early detection leads to the best prognosis for melanoma and skin cancer.