Did you know that over the past three decades, more people have been diagnosed with skin cancer than all other cancers combined? In fact, it’s been estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lifetime.
Thankfully, skin cancer is widely considered to be one of the most preventable cancers. With that in mind, we’re offering up more information on sun protection and safety.
Sun Damage 101
The sun emits energy over a broad spectrum of wavelengths. Basically, there’s the visible light we see, infrared radiation we feel, and ultraviolet (UV) radiation we can’t see or feel. Most skin cancer—and up to 90% of the visible signs of aging—are caused by two types of UV rays:
UVB Rays: These “burning” rays are responsible for your tan, but also your sunburn and cancer risk. Despite weather conditions, up to 80% of the rays are able to penetrate through and leave you potentially exposed.
UVA Rays: Sometimes known as the “aging” rays, these are less likely to cause sunburns than UVB rays but are by no means any less dangerous; in fact, they penetrate the skin more deeply and prolonged exposure can lead to signs of photoaging such as wrinkles and sunspots.
Photoaging versus Chronological Aging
The premature aging of your skin caused by repeated exposure to UV radiation from the sun or artificial UV sources—such as tanning beds—is what we call photoaging, and differs from chronological aging in a number of ways.
Simply put, the damaging effects of UV rays from the sun can actually alter the normal structures of the skin. While your skin may repair many of the mutations caused by UV rays, sometimes the damage is too great and the affected cells may die. When the skin isn’t able to fully repair and mutations occur, this can result in premature aging (and, in more serious cases, even skin cancer).
Early Signs of Photoaging
So now that you understand what causes photoaging, let’s get down to its visible signs. These include:
- Spider veins and broken blood vessels on the nose, cheeks and neck
- Taut lips that start to lose color, fullness and definition
- Various pigmented spots, such as freckles, age or liver spots
- Wrinkles around the eyes and mouth increase, becoming deep creases
- Skin on sun-exposed sites may bruise more easily
- Red, rough scaly spots may appear (these could be pre-cancerous and require treatment)
Sun Protection: What to Know Before You Buy
For starters, look for sun protection products that are labeled “broad spectrum” as these help to ensure that you’ll be protected from both UVA and UVB rays. It's also important to wear a broad spectrum SPF 15 or higher, keeping in mind that SPF 50+ doesn’t necessarily mean more protection.
Are you planning to go swimming or anticipate working up a sweat? Be sure to use a water-resistant sunscreen, but know that no sunscreen is truly waterproof. Sunscreens labeled “water resistant” are required to state how long it remains effective—typically 40-80 minutes, but check the label—but make it a point to reapply at least every two hours.
Sun Safety Tips
We'll leave you with a few final sun protection tips:
- Try to limit time in the sun, especially between the hours of 10am to 2pm when the sun’s rays are strongest
- Wear clothing that covers exposed skin—such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, sunglasses and hats—when possible
- UV rays can reach you even when it’s cloudy or you’re indoors, so wear your broad-spectrum sun protection product each day