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Prevent Skin Cancer: Best Tips for Sun Protection
Beware Sun Damage: It Hurts So Good.
Half of all cancer cases in the United States are skin cancer. Most of these are basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma and are unlikely to kill you. (I myself have had several basal cell cancers removed.) But there are over 68,000 new cases or melanoma — the most serious and potentially deadly form of skin cancer — every year in the U.S.
If you have a family history of skin cancer (as I do), if you are fair skinned (as I am), if you have numerous freckles and moles (as I do) or if you experienced very severe sunburns as a child (as I did), then you are at an increased risk for skin cancer. It is a good idea in this case to have a regular, annual check up with a good dermatologist who can catch any early warning signs. Caught early, even melanoma is highly treatable and curable.
No matter how much we know about sun damage to skin and that without proper sun protection, the sun causes skin cancer, the fact remains that people look better — healthier, happier, fitter, more attractive — with a light tan. Sun damage is among the most dangerous things a person regularly encounters in this life, but the sun feels so good, the sun makes us look good (in the short term: sun damage is the worst for premature aging!), and the sun also is unavoidably there when we do many things that truly are good for us — think of sports like skiing or running or swimming or walking or tennis or golf or biking.
You get the idea. In short: Outdoor exercise = good. Sun = bad.
So what's a responsible person who wants to prevent skin cancer to do? Happily, technological advances have brought us sun protection clothes, sun hats, sun block sprays, UVB blocking lotions — even shampoos that provide almost complete protection from the dangerous sun.
Everyday Tips To Prevent Skin Cancer
If you want to prevent skin cancer and sun damage, you have to do more than just avoid getting a sunburn.
Here are the basics you should practice every day if you want to protect your skin from sun damage:
- Always wear sunblock. Use a daily face moisturizer with SPF 15 or higher. Reapply sunblock regularly.
- Always wear sunglasses. These will protect your eyes and the delicate skin around your eyes.
- Try to avoid the sun during its peak hours. It is strongest between 10 AM and 4 PM. If your shadow is shorter than you are tall, that means the sun is high and strong.
- If you are outside during the sunniest part of the day, stick to the shade as much as possible.
- Clothing provides a valuable protective layer against the sun. The tighter the fabric weave, the more sun protection it provides.
- If you will be in direct sun for an extended period of time, consider clothing with added SPF protection.
- Never use a tanning bed.
- Wear a hat.
Lotions with Zinc Oxide AND Titanium Dioxide
Sunblocks, Sun Creams, Suntan Lotions, Zinka!
Pharmacy shelves are lined with dozens of different sunscreens. Some have high SPF ratings, others block UVB rays while still others claim to enhance a tan. Certain sun blocks profess to be all natural; others are filled with chemicals. There also are many different kinds of applications: sprays, gels, oils, creams, sticks, etc. There are drugstore sunblocks and high end cosmetic brands of sun lotions, and the prices can range from just a few dollars to almost $100 for a small tube of high end sun protection cream.
How on earth can you wade through all these options and know which are the most effective products? Do higher prices mean better sun protection? Not necessarily. Good sun protection and skin cancer fighting properties are available at every price point. Some of the more expensive products may have a less greasy texture or run in more easily, but the most important considerations are active ingredients and SPF levels.
The absolute top sunblocks contain both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, and my personal favorite is made by Solar Protection Formula. This lotion can be tinted or non, it rubs in easily and has a wonderful matte feel that is non-greasy. The thing is, it's hard to find (mostly sold by dermatologists) and it is VERY expensive — around $60 a tube. This is not for most people, but there are plenty of other options, though!
Here are some easy tips to get the most cancer-fighting sun protection out of suntan lotions:
- Look for sunblocks that contain both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Many sun lotions contain one or the other, but those with both active ingredients work the best.
- Use only SPF 15 or higher.
- Reapply continually throughout the day, especially if you are swimming or sweating.
- Use a daily facial moisturizer with SPF sun protection. Even walking out of the office to grab lunch or doing errands exposes you to the sun's damaging rays.
- Apply sunblock at least 20-30 minutes before sun exposure.
- Any sunblock product made in Australia is usually very effective. You also can find good sun protection creams at a dermatologist or a surf shop.
- Try never to get a sunburn.