There are several different conditions that all fall under the umbrella term skin cancer. Each type of skin cancer affects particular cells in the skin. The different kinds of skin cancer include:
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- Basal cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma are the most common types of skin cancer in the United States, and both are highly curable. Melanoma is the rarest, and most dangerous, of the three. All three types of skin cancer are caused by ultraviolet (UV) light—the kind of light that comes from the sun, as well as tanning beds and sun lamps.
Being aware of the dangers of UV is an important step in preventing skin cancer. There are other simple steps you can take to protect yourself and those you care about, while still enjoying the benefits of spending time outside.
Look for the shade
Whether you are shaded by a tree, an awning, an umbrella, or something else, you have some protection against the damaging rays of the sun. Staying in the shade can keep you cool and protect your skin, especially between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm.
Wear protective clothing
Even if you’re in the shade, it’s important to still wear clothes that offer another layer of protection. Although it’s not always practical to wear them, darker, more tightly woven fabrics provide the most protection. Even a T-shirt offers a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15.
Your face is almost always exposed, so a wide-brimmed hat and protective sunglasses are essential for protection, especially when you can’t stay in the shade.
This is probably the most obvious and well-known way to prevent skin cancer. But, there are some additional things to know about sunscreen.
There are two types of UV rays: UVA and UVB. Both cause damage. UVA rays penetrate more deeply into your skin and cause it to eventually look leathery, wrinkle, and sag; UVB rays are mostly responsible for sunburns and causing skin cancer.
SPF measures how well a sunscreen, or pair of sunglasses, or lip gloss, or even fabric, protects you from UVB rays. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 would protect you for 15 times longer than it would take for your skin to begin turning red without it.
In general, you want to use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, and you probably should be using way more than you are. Experts suggest using about an ounce—enough to fill a shot glass—for each application. And you should reapply every two hours, as well as immediately after swimming or sweating.
Examine your skin—and have it examined
Finally, regularly inspect your entire body for odd moles, discoloration, or suspicious looking areas on your skin. Use a mirror, and if you have particular reasons to be concerned about skin cancer, such as a family history, keep a journal noting what you observe during your self-examinations.
It’s also important to see a board-certified dermatologist regularly, such as Dr. Saal at Los Gatos Dermatology in Los Gatos, California. Just as you have preventative exams to detect other conditions early, a skin exam by an expert could avert a crisis. Most cases of skin cancer are entirely treatable, and the earlier you catch it, the better the likely outcome.