Summertime in Portland
Sunscreens help shield you from the sun’s dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays in two ways. Some work by scattering the light, reflecting it away from your body. Others absorb the UV rays before they reach your skin.
A few years ago, choosing a good sunscreen meant you just looked for a high sun protection factor (SPF) — which rates how well the sunscreen protects against one type of cancer-causing UV ray, ultraviolet B (UVB.) “SPF refers to blockage of UVB rays only,” says Leffell.
Research soon showed that ultraviolet A rays (UVA) also increase skin cancer risk. While UVA rays don’t cause sunburn, they penetrate deeply into skin and cause wrinkles. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that up to 90% of skin changes associated with aging are really caused by a lifetime’s exposure to UVA rays.
So which is the best sunscreen for you? Clearly, you’ll want a sunscreen with broad-spectrum or multi-spectrum protection for both UVB and UVA. Ingredients with broad-spectrum protection include benzophenones (oxybenzone), cinnamates (octylmethyl cinnamate and cinoxate), sulisobenzone, salicylates,titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone (Parsol 1789) and ecamsule (Mexoryl SX).
- SPF 15 or higher for UVB protection. The SPF factor rates how effective the sunscreen is in preventing sunburn caused by UVB rays. If you’d normally burn in 10 minutes, SPF 15 multiplies that by a factor of 15, meaning you could go 150 minutes before burning.For the vast majority of people, SPF 15 is fine, Leffell tells WebMD. But people who have very fair skin, a family history of skin cancer, or conditions like lupus that increase sensitivity to sunlight should consider SPF 30 or higher.
Keep in mind that the higher the SPF, the smaller the increased benefit: contrary to what you might think, SPF 30 isn’t twice as strong as SPF 15. While SPF 15 filters out 93% of UVB, SPF 30 filters out 97%, only a slight improvement.
- UVA protection. There is no rating to tell you how good a sunscreen is at blocking UVA rays, says Leffell. So when it comes to UVA protection, you need to pay attention to the ingredients.Look for a sunscreen that contains at least one of the following, Leffell says: ecamsule, avobenzone,oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, sulisobenzone, or zinc oxide. Any of those should do the trick.
- Water and sweat resistance. If you’re going to be exercising or in the water, it’s worth getting a sunscreen resistant to water and sweat.But understand what this really means. The FDA defines water resistant sunscreen as meaning that the SPF level stays effective after 40 minutes in the water. Very water resistant means it holds after 80 minutes of swimming. These sunscreens are in no way water-proof, so you’ll need to reapply them regularly if you’re taking a dip.
- A brand you like. Even if a brand is recommended by all the experts, if you don’t like it, you’re not going to use it, says Karrie Fairbrother, RN, president-elect of the Dermatology Nurses Association. Personal preference is really important.
Confused yet? The Enviromental Working Group is here to help you out! Every year, the Group rates many different sunscreens on their effectiveness, the make up and their staying power.
Check out their SUNSCREEN REPORT FOR 2018 (2019 wasn’t release at the time of writing).
The American Cancer Society has released its annual statistics report for 2019, giving us even more reason to step up our sun-care routine.
This year’s report found that skin cancer is still the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in the U.S., and melanoma skin cancer diagnoses continue to rise. In 2019, new cases of melanoma are expected to increase by about 5.7 percent, from 91,270 news cases in 2018 to a projected estimate of 96,479 new cases in 2019.
“More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined, [and] skin cancer incidence — including both melanoma and non-melanoma — has been on the rise,” says Elizabeth Goldberg, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and a spokesperson for the Skin Cancer Foundation. “[But] there is one positive way to interpret these statistics: We’re finding more skin cancer because more people are getting screened for skin cancers than ever before, which shows that awareness efforts are working.”
What Do the Findings Mean?
In other words, all that preaching we constantly do about slathering on sunscreen and seeing your dermatologist every year for a skin screening? It’s working. Not exactly, but you know what we’re saying — more people seeing their doctors for screenings is resulting in a greater number of melanoma cases being diagnosed, rather than flying under the radar.
While this is not necessarily bad news, more diagnoses could mean that people are generally becoming more educated about the warning signs for melanoma, as well as getting screened. Perhaps even more hopeful is the finding that while melanoma is being diagnosed more, the death rate for the disease is expected to decrease by 22 percent in 2019.
How to Spot Skin Cancer
Advancing technology aside, it still pays off to be vigilant. A quick refresher on the ABCDEs of melanoma, which dermatologists “regularly use to teach patients about what to look for,” according to Park.
A is for asymmetry, B is for border (which may be uneven or irregular), C is for color (white, red, and blue can signal irregularity, and color can also have shades of tan, brown, or black), D is for diameter (per the American Academy of Dermatology, melanoma is usually the size of a pencil eraser when diagnosed, but it can be smaller), and E is for evolution, which means that the mole changes in shape and appearance over time. Keep an eye on your skin — it’s your largest organ — and if you notice any of these signs, book an appointment with your dermatologist.
The Takeaway: Early Detection Is Crucial
OK, but what does this all mean for you? Both can benefit from early detection and treatment. More on what to look out for: melanomas often resemble moles, and they’re most commonly found on the trunk in men, legs in women, and upper back of both genders. SCC is most commonly found in areas exposed to the sun, such as the rim of the ear, lower lip, the face, balding scalp, neck, hands, arms, and legs. These look like scaly red patches, open sores, or elevated growths that can crust or bleed.
If you believe you have one (or more) of these early signs, make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist for a skin check. Better yet, make an appointment right now — you can never be too safe.
Article adapted from Allure Magazine, see full article here
PS, While I can’t diagnose skin cancer (out of my scope of practice), I do see a lot of skin. I am happy to take pictures or those hard to see places of “suspects” for you to send on to your primary care.