Before students leave West Chester for summer vacation, one of the most important lessons to take home is how to protect oneself from the sun, as well as how to identify the risk of developing skin cancer.
Because skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with more than one million cases diagnosed annually, it is of the utmost importance to educate students on their risk, and how to protect oneself. Many people do not realize that their skin type is a huge indicator of skin cancer risk. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, there are six different skin types. The first step for protection from skin cancer is identifying skin classification. Type I people burn when exposed to the sun, and do not tan. They are very fair-skinned, and probably have blonde or red hair and light eyes. Type II people may tan minimally, but they mostly burn. These two types are at the highest skin cancer risk.
Type III people are less fair-skinned than their type I and type II counterparts. They will burn and then tan. Type IV’s are naturally tan-looking. They rarely burn, and they tan easily and quickly. Type V’s are brown-skinned; type VI’s are black-skinned. Types III through VI are the least likely to develop skin cancer, but it is not impossible. Though melanoma is rare in African-Americans, Asians and Latinos, it is most deadly for these populations because it is more likely to go undetected. An annual visit to a dermatologist is recommended for all skin types by the Skin Cancer Foundation, so if you cannot identify your skin type, your dermatologist can.
Besides your skin type, there are other considerations when determining skin cancer risk. These determiners, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, are family history of skin cancer and amount of sun exposure as a child. These are probably questions a dermatologist will ask, so be prepared. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation a “person’s risk for skin cancer doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns.” Thinking about history with sunburns, as well as talking to a doctor about them, is a proactive step many people neglect to take.
Of course, there are important proactive steps you can take against skin cancer. Clothing is an excellent source of sun protection, in fact, it is now possible to buy additives to throw in the laundry to offer extra UV protection. The general rule of thumb with clothing is the darker, the more protection afforded to skin. If light shines through when holding a piece of clothing up to the light it will probably not offer a lot of protection from the sun. Wide-brim hats and UV-blocking sunglasses will protect the face from burning.
The next step in protecting skin is wearing sunscreen. The recommendation of The Skin Cancer Foundation is wearing a sunscreen with SPF of at least 15, which will block about 93 percent of UVB rays. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes prior to sun exposure, and should be reapplied every two hours or after swimming. One application should equal one ounce, which is about the size of a shot glass. Use skin type to determine what SPF to use, and ask a dermatologist if unsure. Additionally, use some sunscreen daily, even when it’s cloudy.
Another big issue, especially with college students, is artificial tanning. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “After exhaustively reviewing decades of worldwide research, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has unequivocally linked sunbed tanning among young people to the deadliest form of skin cancer.” A great-looking tan may be important now, but the risk is simply too large to ignore. In fact, by using tanning beds, the risk of developing skin cancer increases 75 percent. Even occasional use of tanning beds triples chances of developing melanoma. Tanning will also cause premature wrinkles and eventually give the skin a leathery appearance.
No matter where this summer may take you, pack some sunscreen and book an appointment with a dermatologist. Examine yourself monthly and avoid tanning. Remember that a little precaution can make a huge difference. For more information, visit www.skincancer.org.