When you think of sunscreen, you probably think back to beach days when your parents slathered you in thick, goopy white lotion to prevent you from getting sunburned. It usually smelled like bananas or coconuts and came in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, but you never gave it much thought.
Now when we think of sunscreen, we think of using it daily to prevent ourselves from developing skin cancer as a way of protecting future you.
Did you know May is Skin Cancer Awareness month? With over 5 million cases diagnosed in the United States each year, skin cancer is America’s most common cancer according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Read on to find out why you need to be wearing sunscreen every day, even when it’s cloudy!
Skin Cancer is a Very Real Threat
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were over 80 thousand reported cases of melanoma - 8,885 of which were fatal - in 2015.
By wearing sunscreen every day, you cut your chances of developing skin cancer in half! According to Melanoma.org:
“In 2011, the Journal of Clinical Oncology published a randomized, clinical study of over 1,600 people showing that regular sunscreen use reduced the incidence of melanoma by 50-73%. When used as directed with other sun protection measures, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher helps prevent sunburn and reduces the risk of early skin aging and skin cancer (melanoma and squamous cell carcinomas) associated with UV radiation.”
So whether it’s to prevent skin cancer or prevent wrinkles (or both!) you should always, ALWAYS remember to make sunscreen a part of your daily routine.
Even When It’s Cloudy, Even In The Winter
The belief that you do not need sunscreen if it’s cloudy outside is a complete myth. YES, you can still get sun exposure during the winter and on cloudy days! The sun’s rays are so incredibly strong, that up to 40 percent of the sun's ultraviolet radiation reaches the earth on a completely cloudy day!
Even on the coldest winter days, though the sun might not be as warm, the sun’s rays are still hitting you - so do yourself a favor and slather on a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
What does SPF mean?
Wondering what SPF means as well as the corresponding number? Don’t fret. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Sunscreens are assigned a sun protection factor (SPF) number that rates their effectiveness in blocking UV rays. Higher numbers indicate more protection.”
In order for you to get the most out of your sunscreen, make sure you are using one that has an SPF of at least 30 and is broad spectrum, meaning it will block both UVA and UVB rays.
Here’s the key differences between UVA and UVB rays:
UVA Rays: Penetrate deep into the dermis, the skin’s thickest layer
UVB Rays: Usually burn the superficial layers of your skin. It plays a key role in the development of skin cancer.
How Much Is Too Much?
If you think you’re not putting on the right amount of sunscreen, chances are you’re probably right.
Believe it or not, “Science has shown that for you to get an adequate amount of protection you need a teaspoon or two of sunscreen just for your face. Then, a shot glass full for your arms, another for your chest and abdomen, and so on,” said Ariel Ostad, a New York City dermatologist in an article on Allure.
Plus, you need to make sure to reapply if you are in the sun all day or in and out of water, at least every 90 minutes or so.
Why Early Detection is Key for Skin Cancer
According to The Skin Cancer Foundation,
“Skin cancer is the out-of-control growth of abnormal cells in the epidermis, the outermost skin layer, caused by unrepaired DNA damage that triggers mutations. These mutations lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. The main types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), melanoma, and Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC).”
The good news is - skin cancer is the only cancer you can see. That means by following the right steps of self-exams and regular dermatologist visits, you can detect skin cancer early.
Below is The Skin Cancer Foundation’s official step-by-step guide to doing a self-exam at home for detecting skin cancer:
- Examine your face
Especially your nose, lips, mouth and ears — front and back. Use one or both mirrors to get a clear view.
- Inspect your scalp
Thoroughly inspect your scalp, using a blow-dryer and mirror to expose each section to view. Get a friend or family member to help, if you can.
- Check your hands
Palms and backs, between the fingers and under the fingernails. Continue up the wrists to examine both the front and back of your forearms.
- Scan your arms
Standing in front of the full-length mirror, begin at the elbows and scan all sides of your upper arms. Don’t forget the underarms.
- Inspect your torso
Next, focus on the neck, chest and torso. Lift the breasts to view the undersides.
- Scan your upper back
With your back to the full-length mirror, use the hand mirror to inspect the back of your neck, shoulders, upper back and any part of the back of your upper arms you could not view in step 4.
- Scan your lower back
Still using both mirrors, scan your lower back, buttocks and backs of both legs.
- Inspect your legs
Sit down; prop each leg in turn on the other stool or chair. Use the hand mirror to examine the genitals. Check the front and sides of both legs, thigh to shin. Then, finish with ankles and feet, including soles, toes and nails (without polish).
Hopefully, this will inspire you to wear sunscreen every day and periodically perform self-exams to check for skin cancer, especially as we approach the summer season.