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Skin Cancer Prevention

Skin Cancer Prevention

by Dr Margaret Philhower

Finally, the sun is shining and weather is sweet! It’s easy to let a sunburn sneak up on you, though, so it’s important to be sun savvy. One in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70. You can do yourself a great service to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer and wrinkles by eating right, making sure you get a little sun exposure and your Vitamin D levels are in range, using a quality sunscreen judiciously and getting annual skin checks with your healthcare provider.

Remain vigilant for the signs of skin cancer.  Pay attention to new or changing moles and crusty spots on the skin. Follow the “ABCDEs” and see your doctor if you notice a spot growing Asymmetrically, having an irregular Border, multiple Colors and a Diameter larger than ¼ inch, especially if it’s Elevated. When in doubt, have it checked out!

There are 2 types of ultraviolet rays. UVA rays are 95% of the UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface. Though less intense than UVB, UVA rays have relatively equal intensity all day throughout the year, and can penetrate clouds and glass. UVA is the dominant tanning ray which, whether outdoors or in a salon, causes damage over time. A suntan is a reaction to DNA damage in the skin and an imperfect attempt to prevent further mutations that can lead to skin cancer.

UVB, the chief cause of skin reddening and sunburn, tends to damage the skin’s more superficial layers. Although it helps us turn cholesterol into Vitamin D, it also plays a key role in skin cancer and a smaller role in tanning and skin aging. UVB intensity varies by season, location, and time of day. The most significant amount of UVB hits the U.S. between 10 AM and 4 PM from April to October. 

Simply slathering on sunblock isn’t the answer.  Sunscreens may even increase skin cancer risk.  A 2011 Environmental Working Group study found that over 60% of sunscreen products reviewed provide inadequate UVA protection. Safe and effective sunscreens contain zinc oxide, avobenzone or mexoryl sx (aka ecamsule) and have a SPF between 15-50.  Avoid SPF over 50, oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate, aluminum and added insect repellant.  Water resistant creams work better than sprays and powders.

Right now, it’s possible to get sunburned in as little as 15 minutes during peak UVB hours. So, protect yourself from excess exposure during these times and get your uncovered skin in the sun earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon for about 20 minutes. Wait to shower so your skin has time to absorb that Vitamin D it just made. It’s best not to get sunburned at all, but if you do, plant medicines can help. Aloe vera gel applied topically after exposure is soothing and cooling.  Black tea-soaked cloths applied or Lavender essential oil diluted in a spritzer bottle of cold water ease the pain and may prevent peeling and blistering.

Fresh, raw vegetables and fruits provide your body with an abundance of powerful antioxidants that will help quench the free radicals that lead to burns and cancer. These nutrients include Vitamins A, C, and E plus pycnogenol (found in grapes, apples, cocoa, tea, nuts) astaxanthin (from seafood and red algae), and lycopene (from tomatoes and watermelon). Sunlight nourishes us, too. It not only helps us make Vitamin D, but also catalyzes the synthesis of the essential nutrient, sulfate, a sulfur compound that gives us energy and drives vital metabolic pathways in the body.

Don’t worry about having some fun in the sun, simply be smart about it. One of my favorite ways to moderate the summer sun is finding a shady spot to relax in between dips in a beautiful swimming hole along one of our scenic rivers. We are blessed to have so many outdoor opportunities to enjoy in Southern Oregon.


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