Phoenix boasts an average of 211 sunny days per year, a swimming pool in nearly every back yard and plenty of fun year-round outdoor activities, so it’s easy to see why Valley residents spend a lot of time outside in the Arizona sun. But if not properly protected, your skin can suffer as a result of over exposure to the sun. Arizona has overwhelming skin cancer rates; the highest in the nation and the second highest in the world next to Australia. Skin cancer affects millions of people each year, and results in one death per hour which makes early detection and treatment imperative to curing melanoma and other deadly skin cancers. Below are a few skin cancer myths and misconceptions and some easy tips to stay protected.
Myth #1: “Only adults get skin cancer.”
Many people don’t start worrying about skin cancer until adulthood, but for most, a large percentage of their exposure to the sun may occur before the age of 18. Early exposure is not always easy to see with the naked eye, but it can have hazardous long-term effects on your skin. This damage can be irreversible and can stay dormant in your skin cells, for up to 20 years in some cases, until the signs of cancer begin to show after being damaged as a young person. Many people believe having just one or only a few sunburns are trivial, especially when they’re young, but it really only takes one bad sunburn to increase the risk of skin cancer.
Myth #2: “People with dark skin are better protected against the sun than people with light skin.”
A common belief is that people with dark skin are better protected against the sun than Caucasians and other ethnicities with lighter skin. This myth can be particularly destructive if taken as fact, as melanoma, basal, squamous cell and other serious skin cancers often have a worse prognosis in darker skin than in patients with light skin. It is also important to know that every ethnicity has a range of tones, so fair skin – regardless of your ethnicity – is highly prone to sun damage and cancer growth.
Myth #3: “Tanning beds are safer than sunbathing.”
It’s important to know that tanning beds are extremely hazardous to your skin and can cause more or as much damage as the sun because they emit both UVA and UVB rays. These harmful rays have the potential to cause cancer, especially when produced at a high intensity for a concentrated period of time.
Myth #4: “Only direct sunlight is damaging to skin.”
Some people believe that if they are not OUT in the sun, they are not exposed to the sun. This belief is false, as you are exposed to the sun many times each day, whether you’re wearing a bathing suit or long sleeves. Your hands, face, feet, neck and other sensitive areas of your body can be exposed to the sun while you’re driving, walking across a parking lot while running errands or even enjoying a cup of coffee on your patio in the morning. Sunlight doesn’t have to be direct to cause damage to your skin.
FACT: Prevention is possible!
Remembering to protect your skin on a daily basis, even when you’re only outside for a little while, is extremely important to preventing skin cancer and it might be easier than you think. Wearing protective clothing like long sleeves, broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses (rated to block at least 99% of UVA and UVB rays) will cover sensitive areas of your skin. Use sunscreen regularly and apply two tablespoons to all exposed areas (remember your hands, face, feet, ears and other areas that often get missed). If you’re swimming, sweating or doing activities with water, like washing your car, reapply your sunscreen every two hours. Choose sunscreens, moisturizers and lip balms with an SPF rating of 30 or higher and look for protective ingredients like avobenzone and titanium dioxide. Enjoy your time outside, but seek the shade, especially between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm. Avoiding direct sunlight alone won’t protect you from sun damage, but it is less invasive than direct sunlight and will help when paired with sunscreen, hats and other preventive tactics.
Don’t Forget Your Monthly Self-Exam
It is important to examine your skin head-to-toe at least once every month. Look for new moles or freckles (especially after the age of 30) and warning signs in preexisting moles like:
· Irregular or raised borders
· Irregular coloring: darker than usual, purple, multicolor, spread of color or loss of color
· Increasing size or diameter
· Elevated or raised moles
· Irregular texture or scaly/crusty lesions
· Moles that bleed or itch
· Sores that do not heal
It’s also important to get an annual skin check and have a medical professional examine your skin thoroughly. Arrowhead Health Centers providers have had advanced education and training in dermatology and skin cancer. We also use an advanced imaging tool called a dermascope that is designed to accurately scrutinize your skin and give you a more meticulous examination.
If you have questions about protecting your skin, visit our website or call us at 623-334-4000.