***DISCLAIMER – this article is written by an esthetician, NOT a doctor or healthcare professional. This article is meant to talk about aging and UV protection, and is not medical advice or a diagnosis***
Skin cancer will affect approximately 1 in 5 Americans in their lifetime and is the most common cancer in the US, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association. The odds are not in your favor – you have a 20% chance of getting skincare in your lifetime. If you come from a family of 5, you or an immediate family member will mostly likely experience skin cancer at some point in your life.
There are different forms of skin cancer – the most common are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Melanoma is the scariest and most fatal. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma may be curable if detected in the early stages and treated immediately. Any growths, changes in moles or discolorations, abnormal spots, or sores that do not go away, should be seen and assessed by a dermatologist as soon as possible. The AAC recommends individuals to regularly preform self-exams for any abnormalities of the skin – about 50% of melanomas are self-detected. ACC has a quick self-check guide “ABCDE” – look for changes in Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter, and Evolving. Individuals with a history of skin cancer or abnormalities should get screened by a dermatologist on a regular basis.
UV damage is the main cause of all types of skin cancer. Experiencing a blistering sunburn or using a tanning bed will increase your risk of skin cancer. Pale skin, mature skin, moles, auto-immune conditions, and previous UV damage are all factors that increase the risk.
How do UV Rays damage the skin?
Our atmosphere is made up of gas – invisible compounds such as O2, CO2, N2, etc. Ultraviolet rays split compounds, leaving unstable atoms or compounds known as Free Radicals. Free radicals are unstable because they do not have enough electrons on their own to fulfill the “octet rule,” where stable compounds have a complete valence shell of 8 electrons. Free Radicals tend to steal electrons from other compounds – in this case, healthy cells. Free radicals damage healthy cells, cause visible signs of aging, and increase the risk of cancer.
To reduce the risk of skin cancer, use sun protection DAILY! Sun protection includes – use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen (at least 15 SPF – reapply every 2 hrs if you will be in the sun), sun protective clothing, and staying indoors / in the shade. It’s important to use sun protection, even if you are just driving to work. Glass only blocks UVB rays, allowing harmful UVA rays to penetrate through windows. Habitual use of sun protection will also reduce visible signs of aging such as age/sun spots, wrinkles, and loss of elasticity.
Sun protection is especially important if you are local to Denver or Colorado. We are at Mile High elevation - 5280 ft closer to the sun than the rest of the world! It's never too late to start being proactive.
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