Last week, we discussed why Nevadan’s need to take extra precaution when it comes to preventing skin cancer and what you can do to reduce your risk of skin damage and sunburns. This week, we are continuing with Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month by talking about sunscreen — it’s not just for summer! As we all know, around late April and early May, the big box stores start flooding their aisles with large bottles of sunscreen; however, it’s not just the summer sun that causes sunburns.
First, let’s talk about Ultraviolet (UV) light. UV light or UV radiation is a wavelength of sunlight outside the “visible spectrum” in a range too short for the human eye to see. There are two types of solar radiation responsible for sunburns: Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB). Additionally, sunlamps and tanning beds also produce UV light and can cause sunburn.
Now, let’s the difference between a suntan and a sunburn:
- Suntans: No matter what your skin tone may be, almost everyone has melanin in their skin, this is the pigment found in the outer layer of skin that gives us our color. When you skin is exposed to UV light, your body protects itself by accelerating the production of melanin — it’s this extra melanin that creates the darker color we call a “tan”. However, increased melanin production isn’t enough to completely protect against skin damage and sunburns because many people don’t produce enough melanin to protect the skin well.
- Sunburns: When the skin is exposed to too much ultraviolet (UV) light the skin will turn red in light-skinned people and dark brown in dark-skinned people; typically, the skin will also be swollen and painful. Sunburns can vary from mild to severe and the depends on skin type and amount of exposure to the sun. Sunburn is a serious risk factor for skin cancer and for sun damage.
- Besides tanning or burning, a lot of people also get uneven patches of color, or freckles.
- Even if you have naturally dark skin or “never burn and always tan”, UV light is still damaging your skin and you can still develop skin cancer and wrinkles in the future. It is important to note that even people with darker skin tones can still develop sunburns and skin damage!
One of the best ways and easiest ways to protect against sunburns and sun damage is to use a broad spectrum sunscreen — broad spectrum means that the sunscreen will protect against both UVA and UVB radiation. Be sure to use a sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 — this means that 1/30th of the UV radiation will reach the skin, assuming sunscreen is applied evenly. Speaking of application, you should use about one fluid ounce of sunscreen every time you apply, this is considered the amount needed to cover all the exposed areas of the body.
It’s a good idea to use water resistant sunscreen, particularly if you plan on spending the day up at Lake Tahoe or swimming, but it’s also a good idea to use water resistant sunscreen if you are out hiking, running, or just plain sweating. Water resistant sunscreen is rated for 40 or 80 minutes depending on the brand, after that time frame the sunscreen is no longer considered waterproof or sweatproof and should be reapplied immediately.
To learn more about Sunscreen, Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month, skin cancer, Nevada’s facts and skin cancer statistics, etc, please follow the links below:
- MayoClinic: Sunburns and Suntans
- AAD: What Causes a Sunburn
- Medical News Today: Sunburns
- Skin Cancer.Org: Skin Cancer Prevention
- AAD: Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month
- Melanoma Know More (MKM)
- Skin Cancer Foundation: What is Melanoma?
- Nevada 2012: Skin Cancer Profile
- Nevada State Cancer Plan
- CDC: Skin Cancer Rates by State
- EPA: Nevada’s Skin Cancer Facts