Does Sunscreen Prevent Skin Cancer & How To Use It Effectively?
Did you know? Around 80% of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays can penetrate your skin even on cloudy days. Excessive exposure to the sun is the main cause of skin cancer. Sunscreens can protect you against skin cancer. Though it is not effective unless you apply it properly. Let’s look into the connection between sun and skin cancers, how sunscreen helps in skin cancer prevention and how to use it.
The Connection Between Sun Exposure, Skin Precancers, And Skin Cancer:
Sunlight contains two harmful rays which reach the earth – UVA and UVB rays. Overexposure to them can cause skin cancer. Besides increasing skin cancer risk, these rays can cause sunburn, premature ageing, wrinkles, and age spots. WHO’s International Agency of Research on Cancer and the United States Department of Health & Human Services have declared these rays from the sun and artificial sources such as sun lamps as a cancer-causing substance.
Skin precancers are common in many people who fail to protect themselves from the sun. They often appear as a scaly, rough patch or bump on the skin part badly damaged by the sun. If left untreated, skin precancers put you at a higher risk of skin cancer.
Also, not everyone’s skin is equally capable of withstanding UV light. People with pale skin, red hair, grey, blue or green eyes, older adults, people with compromised immune systems (due to AIDS, cancer treatments, organ transplantation), and rare disorders such as albinism are more at risk of developing skin precancers and cancers than others.
The most common skin cancer types are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Basal and squamous cell cancers are often less serious and account for 95% of all skin cancers. While melanoma is a dangerous form of skin cancer and accounts for 75% of deaths from skin cancer. Usually, all the skin cancer types are curable when caught early and treated.
How Does Sunscreen Prevent Skin Cancer?
Regular use of sunscreen prevents the sun’s harmful UV radiation from reaching the skin, the main cause of skin cancer. There is much high-quality evidence supporting that sunscreen reduces the risk of skin cancers.
Physical sunscreens act as a shield, and they prevent the penetration of harmful rays by blocking and deflecting them. They contain active ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
Chemical sunscreens absorb the harmful rays and prevent them from damaging your skin. Chemical sunscreens consist of one or more of the ingredients: octisalate, avobenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octinoxate, and oxybenzone.
Ways To Choose And Use Sunscreen Wisely So That Your Sunscreen Prevent Skin Cancer:
A. Read the label and choose your own sunscreen:
- While buying sunscreen, watch the label. If broad-spectrum is mentioned, it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. If SPF is mentioned (sun protection factor) only, it protects against UVB rays. Choose to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher if you have high exposure to sun.
- You can prefer sunscreen with SPF 15 for occasional exposure and everyday activities such as driving to work, walking, etc. If you work outdoors and activities like hiking, running, swimming need SPF 30 or higher.
- Intense physical activity and swimming need water-resistant labelled sunscreens. They are effective for up to forty minutes in water. Sunscreen labelled as ‘Very water-resistant’ are effective up to eighty minutes in water.
- Sunscreens are available as creams, gels, sticks, and sprays. Creams are suitable for dry skin, and Gels are suitable for hairy or scalp areas. Sticks can be used around the eyes. You can pick your sunscreen based on your activities, the area to be protected, and how comfortable you are with a particular product. People who have sensitive skin can go for physical sunscreens, and there are also special sunscreens available for sensitive skin and babies.
B. Things to remember while applying sunscreen:
- It is best to apply sunscreen on dry skin fifteen minutes before going outdoors. Apply sunscreen liberally on every part of the skin that gets exposed to the sun. Use every day you go outside as UV rays can reach you even on cool and cloudy days.
- You have to reapply sunscreen approximately every two hours or after intense exercises or swimming.
- Remember to apply lip balm or lipstick with at least SPF 30 as skin cancer also affects lips.
- Don’t use sunscreens after the expiration date. Do not use sunscreen if you find any visible changes in the product, such as color or consistency; it means the product is affected by factors such as temperature.
- Do not use sunscreen in babies younger than six months. Keep them out of the sun from 10am to 4pm. Use protective clothing such as long sleeves, pants, and hats if they have to be in the sun.
Other Tips To Prevent Damage From The Sun:
- Avoid going outdoors between 10am and 2pm when the sun rays are strongest.
- Coverup. Wear a long-sleeved shirt, pants, sunglasses and hat if possible.
- Be extra cautious if you take medicines that make the skin more sensitive to the sun.
- Avoid sunlamps and tanning beds.
Better Results Lie In Better Use
Most of us use only twenty-five to fifty percent of the recommended amounts of sunscreen, and adults need almost one ounce of sunscreen to fully cover the body. According to the skin cancer foundation, proper sunscreen usage can decrease the chance of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 40% and melanoma by 50%. Say no to the sun without sunscreen and lower your skin cancer risk.