Your skin is good to you. Be good to your skin, and reduce your risk of cancer
It’s the miraculous organ that defines the way we look to others, provides our essential sense of touch and forms a protective barrier between us and a sometimes harsh world. Doesn’t it make sense to return the kindness? A few easy, precautionary steps can save our skin from unnecessary aging – even cancer.
“It’s essential to protect your skin from the sun,” says Toronto-based dermatologist Sonya Cook.
“Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, and it’s also one of the most preventable. In Canada, one in six people will develop skin cancer during their lifetime, and the biggest risk factor is ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure.”
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, in fact, about 90 per cent of non-melanoma skin cancers and 86 per cent of melanomas are associated with exposure to UV radiation.
Sunscreen is essential, but should be considered the last line of defence, Dr. Cook stresses. “If you’re going to be outside, plan to be out before 11:00 in the morning or after 4:00 p.m. to avoid peak exposure. Cover your skin as much as possible: wear protective clothing that is UV-rated, a hat and sunglasses. Seek shade – it’s a complete abuse of sunscreen to lather it on and then lay in the sun.”
If the risk of cancer seems distant, it can be motivating to remember the more immediate effect of sun damage: unnecessary aging. “Irregular pigmentation, a yellowy look of the skin called solar elastosis, irregular texture, wrinkling, broken blood vessels known as telangiectasias – all are exacerbated by the sun,” says Dr. Cook.
To do its job, sunscreen must be applied correctly, as part of your daily routine.
Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
Ideally, apply at least 15 minutes before sun exposure to allow the sunscreen to form an even film; reapply after every two hours of sun exposure.
Measure to be sure you’re applying enough – in a bathing suit, you’ll need about four tablespoons, the equivalent of a shot glass or golf ball.
Choose creams or lotions rather than sprays for the initial daily application. (Sprays are fine for touch-ups on the go.)
Apply year-round: 95 per centof UV rays are UVA, whichpenetrate deeper into the skin, cause DNA damage and are present even on cloudy days, all year long. SPF measures only UVB, so look for a UVA logo.
According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, 90 per cent of skin cancer can be cured if detected in time, making regular checkups vital.
“We use the A-B-C-D-E system for checking moles, and I advise my patients to check their skin once a month,” says Dr. Cook. (See below.) “Put a repeating alarm on your phone for every fourth Sunday. Look everywhere, including your feet and back; look for any new lesions. Remember the ugly duckling rule: if all your moles look the same and one stands out because it looks different, that’s the mole to watch.
“If it’s changing, see your doctor.”
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