As we head into the second holiday weekend in the US, many of us might be looking forward to time at the lake, at the beach, or out on a boat. Even a leisurely walk can feel invigorating when it is performed on a sunny, summer day. And while sunlight can boost our mood and help our bodies produce Vitamin D, prolonged sun exposure can increase our risk of skin cancer. And this risk accumulates slowly, over a lifetime, so it can be hard to keep it top of mind.
Understanding Your Risk
The primary risk for skin cancer come Ultraviolet (UV) radiation, with sun exposure and indoor tanning serving as the main sources. For instance, one study has shown that tanning beds were associated with a 20% increased risk of melanoma compared to (non-users). UV light causes damage to the DNA of skin cells. Over time, these genetic changes can build up and lead to cancer. The two main types of UV toxic radiation are UV-A (which is much more abundant), and UV-B (which is more likely to cause DNA damage). They occur at different wavelengths, and exposure to both should be reduced to help lower your cancer risk.
There are several types of skin cancers. Right now, squamous cell and basal cell cancers are the most common types. But by 2040, melanoma (a much more dangerous cancer type) will be most common cause of skin cancer in men. Consider these facts:
- Men have worse outcomes (including higher risk of death) from skin cancer than women
- Although they engage in more sun exposure, men use less prevention measures such as sunblock.
- Nearly 75% of men say their skin burns moderately to severe when exposed to sun, but only 17% wear sunscreen daily
- 47% of men say a tan makes them feel good about themselves. Unfortunately, a greater positive perception of tanning was associated with less sun protective behaviors.
Staying Safe Throughout the Year
Clearly, men want to enjoy the sun, but they need a better plan to stay safe. Other than avoidance, sun protection with sunscreen is the best mitigation strategy. These skin products contain molecules that reflect or absorb the radiation and reduce the aging and carcinogenic effects of UV light. As a general rule, you should apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes prior to exposure, and follow the “teaspoon rule” to figure out how much product to apply:
- 1 teaspoon for the head and neck
- 1 teaspoon for each arm / hand
- 2 teaspoons for the back and chest
- 2 teaspoons for each leg / foot
What about product safety? Sunscreens contain mineral or chemical filters. Reasonable evidence suggests that mineral filters (such as zinc oxide) are not absorbed into the body. While evidence is limited, there is data that suggests chemical-based filters can show up in blood and urine. It’s unclear what, if any, effects they may have. In animal models, certain chemicals may have biological effects similar to estrogen. So, if this potential raises a concern, consider sticking with mineral only products. Curious about which sunscreens are safest and best for you? Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Sunscreens, which is a comprehensive database of the best sun protection available on the market for consumers.
Follow these tips from the American Academy of Dermatology to reduce your skin cancer risk
- Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade.
- Wear sun-protective clothing, such as a lightweight and long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection, when possible. For more effective sun protection, select clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) label.
- Apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Broad-spectrum sunscreen provides protection from both UVA and UVB rays.
- Use sunscreen whenever you are going to be outside, even on cloudy days.
- Apply enough sunscreen to cover all skin not covered by clothing. Most adults need about 1 ounce — or enough to fill a shot glass — to fully cover their body.
- Don’t forget to apply to the tops of your feet, your neck, your ears and the top of your head. ** don’t forget lip balm!
- When outdoors, reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.
- Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand, as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn.
- Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from tanning beds can cause skin cancer and premature skin aging.
- Consider using a self-tanning product if you want to look tan but continue to use sunscreen with it.
- Perform regular skin self-exams to detect skin cancer early, when it’s most treatable, and see a board-certified dermatologist if you notice new or suspicious spots on your skin, or anything changing, itching or bleeding.
Here’s a simple first step you today – get a bottle of skin moisturizer with SPF 30 and place it in front of the mirror you use each morning. Throw a teaspoon-size amount on your face before you head out for the day – tie to another habit such as brushing your teeth. It doesn’t take long, or even that much. This can go a long way to keeping your facial skin youthful and free of cancer down the road.
Skin cancer is one of the five leading causes of cancer in men, and by taking protective measures against UV radiation you can reduce your chances of developing it. Also, if you have a history of severe skin burns, prolonged sun exposure, or a family history of skin cancer, it is strongly encouraged to seek out a yearly skin cancer screening.
This article is not meant to be construed as medical advice, rather printed for informational purposes only. Everyone’s health situation is different. As always, it is critical to discuss the use of any supplements with a licensed health care provider to ensure that any use is safe and potential effective in your medical status and condition.