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NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health

Feature:
Skin Cancer

Skin and Sun – Safety First

Melanoma

This photo (right) shows an asymmetric melanoma with irregular and scalloped borders. The color varies from gray to brown to black. The melanoma is about 1.2 centimeters.
Photo courtesy of National Cancer Institute

young girl with sunscreen

Be sure to wear sunscreen with a sun protective factor (SPF) of 15 or higher any time you're out in the sun.

Good skin care begins with sun safety. Whether it is something as simple as age spots or as serious as skin cancer, the simplest and cheapest way to keep your skin healthy is to limit your exposure to the sun. Yet, Americans spend billions of dollars each year on skin care products that promise to erase wrinkles, lighten age spots, and eliminate itching, flaking, or redness.

As you age, your skin changes. It becomes thinner and loses fat, making your skin look less smooth. When your skin looks less plump, your veins and bones become more noticeable. You sweat less, which causes your skin to be drier. Also, your skin can take longer to heal from bruises or cuts as you get older. With all of these age-related changes, sunlight is a major contributing factor. You can delay these changes by avoiding prolonged and regular exposure to the sun.

Although nothing can completely undo sun damage, the skin sometimes can repair itself. So, it's never too late to protect yourself from the harmful effects of the sun.

  • New sunscreen rules. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been developing rules about sunscreens over the past three years that manufacturers are now implementing. In short, sunscreens labeled "Broad Spectrum" will protect against all types of sun damage (including ultraviolet A and B) and have a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. A higher number means longer, stronger protection. Also look for products with a label that says water-resistant and either 40 or 80 minutes—the amount of time before the sunscreen needs to be reapplied.
  • Stay out of the sun. Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. This is when the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays are strongest.
  • Wear protective clothing. A hat with a wide brim shades your neck, ears, eyes, and head. Look for sunglasses with a label saying the glasses block 99 to 100 percent of the sun's rays. Wear loose, lightweight, long-sleeved shirts and long pants or long skirts when in the sun.
  • Avoid artificial tanning. Don't use sunlamps, tanning beds, tanning pills, or tanning makeup. Tanning pills have a color additive that turns your skin orange after you take them. The FDA has not approved this for tanning the skin. Tanning make-up products will not protect your skin from the sun.
  • Check your skin often. Look for changes in the size, shape, color, or feel of birthmarks, moles, and spots. If you find any changes, see a doctor. The American Academy of Dermatology suggests that older, fair-skinned people have a yearly skin check as part of a regular physical exam.
  • Dark skin needs protection, too. The incidence of skin cancer in African Americans and other dark-skinned people is much lower than in Caucasians due to the additional melanin, a pigment, in the skin. While this pigment offers some sun protection, dark brown or black skin is not a guarantee against skin cancer.
Woman on tanning Bed

Recent studies have shown that the use of indoor tanning devices increases melanoma risk, expecially for those who use them frequently.

 

Find Out More

  • NCI's Cancer Information Service: (1–800–422–6237) can help locate programs, services, and NCI publications. They can send you a list of organizations that offer services to people with cancer.
  • MedlinePlus: Visit medlineplus.gov and type "skin cancer" or "melanoma" into the Search box.
  • National Cancer Institute Melanoma Home Page: www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/melanoma

Summer 2013 Issue: Volume 8 Number 2 Page 8-9