As a cosmetic dermatologist, my day-to-day focus on sun exposure relates most commonly to the ageing consequences of ultra-violet rays. But let us not forget that an altogether more serious reason for Safe Sun Behaviour is prevention of skin cancer. May is a good time to refresh the facts.
1) Malignant melanoma is the commonest form of cancer in young adults age 25-29 and the 2nd commonest in 15-29 year–olds.
2) Frequency of melanoma in women has increased 8-fold since the 70s and likely reflects the increased use of tanning beds and intense sun exposure, such as severe sunburn in childhood.
3) Regular tanning bed users have a 74% increased chance of developing melanoma.
4) A person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns at any age.
5) One or more blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence more than double a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.
6) But with early detection, cure rates can be as high as 98% – so it’s never too late to start making changes and developing Safe Sun Behaviour.
So with these sobering facts in mind, let’s review the basics.
1) There is no such thing as a safe tan (she says, banging her drum). But it’s true. A tan means UV rays are messing with your skin’s DNA, creating mutations which trigger a melanin defense response. Thinking this is a good thing is insanity.
2) With this simple fact in mind, think about protecting yourself with the holy trinity of shade/clothing/sunscreen – in that order of importance. Especially important for peak hours of UV, between 11am and 3pm.
3) Remember that sunscreen is only effective when you put it on right. When applied incorrectly, it leaves you vulnerable to sunburn ( a very bad thing – see above) because you are under the illusion you’re protected. PUT IT ON GENEROUSLY AND FREQUENTLY.
4) Think of sunscreen like a medicine – you wouldn’t decide to take a ¼ of the dose of antibiotic your doctor prescribes, but this is a common occurrence when it comes to applying sunscreen. You need 30ml (a shotglass-sized amount) to cover an average adult top-to-toe and you need to put it on at least every 2 hrs. Watch out for bits that often get missed, like sides of the neck, ears hairline and scalp.
5) Examine yourself regularly for changes on your skin, such as new moles or changes to old moles, and talk to your doctor if you’re concerned.
Image: courtesy of cafepress.com