Skin Cancer – The Sun Can Be Deadly, Be Sun Smart
Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer. In some parts of the U.S., more than half the Caucasian population has had basal cell carcinoma, the least serious form of skin cancer, by age 75. Fortunately, skin cancer is preventable and, in many cases, easily cured.
Soaking up some rays may seem like a pleasant–and relatively harmless–way to spend a summer afternoon. But the latest statistics from the Skin Cancer Foundation proves otherwise: One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of their lifetime and the American Cancer Society estimates more than 9,000 people will die this year from the disease.
Skin cancer is caused by burning due to over-exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Two types of UV rays reach the Earth–UVB rays are the most harmful and are known to cause skin cancer; UVA rays may also contribute.
You see, skin color depends on the amount of melanin pigment in one’s skin. All skin contains melanin, dark skin just has more, providing extra, natural protection against the sun.
When skin is exposed to the sun, it produces extra melanin to block out the rays, making you turn a shade of brown. But the skin is only bronzing as a defense mechanism, to protect the body from burning. Even the lightest tan is a sign that the body’s defense mechanism against the sun’s rays has been at work.
If you try to tan too fast or have fair skin, your body can’t produce enough melanin and you burn. And the more you burn, the greater the risk of developing skin cancer. The damage done is cumulative. This means that regular sunburns during childhood can contribute to skin cancer later in life.
Although there is no such thing as safe sunbathing, there’s no need to forgo a glow altogether. The catch is you’ve got to use a self-tanning or sunless product to achieve the look.
Whereas a real tan is the result of ultraviolet-radiation injury to the pigment cells of the skin, a fake tan doesn’t involve pigment cells at all. In fact, the active ingredient in most self-tanners–dihydroxyacetone (DHA)–affects only the dead cells in the epidermis which are about to be shed. DHA binds with naturally occurring amino acids in this layer, creating a brown by-product that looks like a tan.
While a self-tanner provides a safe tan (DHA is a Food and Drug Administration-approved colorless dye), it is a mistake to assume that it provides the same protection as a sunscreen. The truth is that underneath it, you’re pale and prone to burning. Look for self-tanners with a SPF of 15 or greater. If your sunless tanning product doesn’t contain sunscreen, apply one on top. So when the sun shines, regulate your exposure and use a good sunscreen.
But did you know that if you wear sunscreen, which you definitely should, you may need a little help in the vitamin D department. That’s because your sunscreen is doing its job of blocking the sun’s rays–the very ones your body uses to produce vitamin D. Fear not, though, if you’re between the ages of 25 and 60, you need only about 200 International Units of vitamin D daily to help your body absorb calcium and phosphorus into your bones and teeth. What’s more, yu can get that much, and more, nutritionally from food sources such as fortified milk, salmon, and fortified cereal, to name a few.