When it comes to preparing our bodies for the powerful summer sun, a bit of early-season color seems to be a natural defense against redness and burning. However, according to dermatologists, developing what's known as a "base tan" and beginning UV exposure early can be deadly.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. In fact, one in five Americans will develop it in their lifetime. “Skin cancer does not discriminate; all skin types are susceptible to varying degree,” said Dr. Brent Wainwright, a dermatologist at CareMount Medical. In fact, musician Bob Marley’s early death was due to metastatic melanoma, a type of skin cancer.
Melanoma is caused when ultraviolet radiation from the sun changes the DNA in skin cells, turning them cancerous. "There is no safe tan; every time you tan, you damage your skin," said Wainwright. "This damage accelerates the aging of your skin and increases the risk for all types of skin cancer.”
Fortunately, most skin cancer can be cured in its early stages, and taking an active role in preventing and detecting cancer can be done by following several easy steps, said Wainwright.
Seek shade -- The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. When out during these times, it's important to wear protective clothing, like a long-sleeved shirt, pants, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses. Use extra caution near water, snow and sand. They reflect the rays of the sun and increases a chance of sunburn.
Lather up -- Generously apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen (with SPF 30 or above) to all exposed skin. Apply sunscreen to dry skin 15 minutes before going outdoors and reapply every two hours, especially after swimming or sweating. Don't forget to apply a lip balm that contains SPF 30 or above, as cancer can develop on the lips as well.
Avoid beds -- The UV light from tanning beds can cause skin cancer and premature aging. In fact, women aged 18-39 are eight times more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma due to indoor tanning.
Being vigilant and reporting any physical abnormalities that develop over the summer is also important, said Wainwright. "Look for new or changing spots on your skin," he said. "If you spot anything changing, itching or bleeding, you should see a dermatologist."
Dr. Brent D. Wainwright is trained in dermoscopy, a painless and noninvasive technique used to help doctors better visualize lesions and identify skin cancer at its most early stage. He is based at CareMount’s Katonah campus.