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Protect Your Skin

09917_WOMC_Spring15.inddBeing active outdoors can be an important part of a healthy lifestyle … and with the wonderful climate in southern Nevada, getting regular exercise and fresh air year round is easy. While sun protection is always important, now that we are approaching the warmest time of the year, we all need to be even more aware of the sun’s intensity so we can protect ourselves from UV rays and the damage they cause.

For many southern Nevadans, summer means dashing from air conditioned homes to air-conditioned cars to air-conditioned workplaces, but we are still getting some exposure to the sun and its harmful rays even when we are only in the sun for a few minutes at a time. Those who work outside or participate in outdoor activities such as swimming, golfing, tennis, hiking, etc., often get more sun exposure for extended periods of time. In either case, sun protection is essential to preventing skin cancer — the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells.

Protect Yourself
The warmth and light of the sun are relaxing and can boost our spirits, but the benefits come with a dangerous trade off. More than 3.5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, and 90 percent of them are caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays. In fact, the American Cancer Society says Nevada has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the country. And it’s not just about cancer. Most of the skin damage we associate with aging – wrinkles, discoloration, sagging, and leathering – is UV related, and it is cumulative.

According to Dr. Brandon Reynolds, plastic surgeon and third generation Las Vegan, there is still a great deal of confusion about the sun’s risks and cancer. “Many of my patients who grew up in the ‘slather yourself with baby oil and bake’ generation come to get treated for skin cancer and say ‘this is the last skin cancer I’ll ever get because from now on, I’m staying out of sun.’ Unfortunately, the cancers these patients are experiencing have resulted from damage that has already been done. Stopping sun exposure now will help prevent additional damage, but it won’t prevent cancer that was caused by previous  exposure.”

When you’re in the sun, be smart and enjoy it without risking your health. Follow these simple rules:

Seek the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the strongest. If you’re outside, try to find shade or carry a sun umbrella. If your favorite activities take place outdoors, enjoy them during early mornings and late afternoons.

Do not burn. Just one sunburn increases your risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. If you have five or more sunburns during your lifetime (not during one summer or one year), your risk doubles.

Avoid tanning and never use UV tanning beds. Tans are never safe … it doesn’t matter if you get tanned on a beach, by a pool or in a tanning bed. The Skin Cancer Foundation indicates that those who use tanning beds are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma (BCC), and 74 percent more likely to get melanoma. Even occasional tanning booth use triples your chance of developing melanoma.

Many tanning salon operators insist their bulbs are safe and that some exposure to UV rays is necessary for vitamin D, but neither statement is true. It’s much safer to get vitamin D through foods such as salmon, fortified milk, orange juice or dietary supplements. And the new sunlamps used in tanning salons actually emit UV doses as much as 12 times that of the sun.

Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses. Clothes, especially densely woven bright- or dark-colored fabrics, can be your most effective form of sun protection, and the more skin you cover, the better, so when possible, wear long sleeves and long pants in the sun.

Don’t forget your eyes! Serious conditions from cataracts to melanomas of the eye and eyelid can be prevented by wearing wraparound sunglasses that block 99-100 percent of the sun’s UV rays and shield the eyes and surrounding skin. Hats are a great, fashionable way to help protect the face and back of neck. Find one with a brim that is 3” or larger.

Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. A sunscreen’s SPF, or sun protection factor, measures how long skin can be exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays before burning compared to how long it would take to burn without protection.

“SPF 15 is technically a full block of the sun,” says Dr. Reynolds, “but it has to be put on so thick it would be visible to others. An SPF of 30 doubles the protection, providing substantial protection if it is put on and reapplied as directed. How often you need to reapply depends on the product’s ingredients, how often you get wet or if you’re sweating heavily.”

Look for products that offer “broad spectrum” or UVA/UVB protection, and make sure your sunscreen has one or more of these ingredients: titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, stabilized avobenzone or ecamsule.

Use sunscreen every day and in every kind of weather because:

  • sunlight reflects off snow, ice, sand, and water, all of which intensify UV effects by as much as 80 percent.
  • even on overcast days, 70-80 percent of UV rays travel through clouds
  • at high altitudes, the thinner atmosphere filters out less UV rays.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends applying 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside, then reapplying every two hours or immediately after swimming or heavy sweating.

Keep infants out of the sun! “Babies are especially susceptible to the damaging effects of the sun because their skin has very little melanin, the pigment that gives color to skin, hair, and eyes and provides some sun protection,” says Dr. Reynolds. “I ask my patients to be aggressive about keeping their kids out of the sun or covered in sunblock.”

If you take your baby out in his or her first six months, make sure he or she is covered with clothes, wears a hat or sunbonnet, and is shielded by a stroller hood or umbrella. One severe burn in childhood will actually double your child’s chance of developing melanoma later in life.

Examine your skin head-to-toe every month. Inspect your skin in a full-length mirror.

  • Start with your head and face – use a blow dryer to check your scalp
  • Check your hands, including nails. Look at your elbows, arms, underarms, torso, and trunk
  • With your back to the mirror, use a hand mirror to check your back, the back of your neck, and other hard-to-see places
  • Sitting down, check your legs and feet including soles, heels, toes, and nails

See your physician every year for a professional skin exam. Regular total-body checkups are the best way to make sure your skin is healthy. Ask your child’s pediatrician to examine skin as part of a yearly checkup.

At-Risk Skin Types
Certain types of skin are at greater risk for developing sun damage and skin cancer. Light-skinned people who always burn and never tan are at highest risk for skin damage and skin cancers. Those with more pigmentation in their skin (darker skin) have more natural protection from sunlight, but they can still get skin cancer. Bottom line is, everyone is at risk and should follow the prevention tips outlined above.

The most common forms of skin cancer linked to UV exposure are

  • Basal Cell Carcinoma

    Basal Cell Carcinoma

    Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) – The most frequently occurring form of skin cancer often looks like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps or scars.

  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) – The second most frequent form of skin cancer often looks like scaly red patches, open sores, elevated growths with a central depression or warts that may crust or bleed.

    Squamous Cell Carcinoma

    Squamous Cell Carcinoma

  • Melanoma – The most dangerous form of skin cancer, melanomas often resemble moles and some develop from moles. Most are black or brown, but they can be skin colored, pink, red, purple, blue or white. Melanoma can show up at any age and can spread to other parts of the body.





Treatment Options

According to Dr. Reynolds, the method of treatment depends on how invasive the cancer is. “There are treatments as simple as freezing the cancer off with liquid nitrogen, burning it off or using topical drugs such as Aldera® or Effudex®, or cutting out the growth, along with a surrounding border of skin using a scalpel or curette, an instrument with a sharp, ring-shaped tip.” In most cases, these procedures can be done in the doctor’s office or as an outpatient procedure under local anesthesia. Dr. Reynolds stresses that the method of treatment should be a joint decision between the doctor and patient.

If you have any warning signs, visit your primary care physician. He or she may then refer you to a dermatologist for further examination. For more information or to find a physician, please call 702.616.4900.

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