Why is Sunscreen Important? How to Minimize the Risks of Developing Skin Cancer

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Updated: 07/13/2020

Summary:

Many people wonder what causes skin cancer, and sun exposure plays a major role. While you can’t entirely prevent skin cancer, the risk of skin cancer can be reduced by making broad spectrum UVA/UVB sun protection a part of your daily routine, along with other sun protection measures. There are several types of skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma1 —but consistent, lifelong use of sunscreen can help reduce this risk.

The presence of a large amount of moles may increase the risk of skin cancer2, and studies have shown that 29% of melanomas develop from existing moles3. This is why it’s important to visit a dermatologist yearly for a full-body check and monitor moles in between appointments.

The ABCDE method can help you identify potentially dangerous skin changes.

A: Asymmetry. Is your mole asymmetrical?
B: Border. Does your mole have an irregular border?
C: Color. Does your mole contain different colors?
D: Diameter. Is your mole greater than 1/4-inch in diameter?
E: Evolution. Has your mole changed?

If you answer “yes” to any of the above questions, you should see a dermatologist as soon as possible. When detected and treated on time, 99% of skin cancers are curable, which is why professional and at-home screening is so important4.
Click HERE to find a dermatologist near you.

To help reduce the risk of skin cancer, it is important to follow sun-safe behaviors that can help protect your skin from the sun:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, hats, and sunglasses
  • Limit time in the sun, especially from 10am-2pm
  • Regularly use a sunscreen with a broad spectrum SPF value of 15 or higher

Click HERE to learn more about sun protection and sun safety tips for adult and kids.

UV RAYS: WHAT CAUSES SKIN CANCER?

1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70, making it the most common cancer in the US5. UV exposure is the primary cause of most skin cancers. UV rays can damage your skin’s DNA, leading to mutations that cause cells to grow uncontrollably, resulting in cancer. When cells reproduce abnormally, they can metastasize, meaning that the cancer can spread from one part of the body to the other6.

Consider this statistic: As few as 5 blistering sunburns before the age of 20 can increase the risk of melanoma by 80%7. However, you can help avoid sunburn with the proper protection, which includes a daily broad spectrum sunscreen.

WHAT IS SKIN CANCER?

There are 3 main types of skin cancer:

Basal cell carcinoma: Representing 90% of skin cancers in the United States, basal cell carcinoma is caused by frequent and repeated UV exposure8. This includes natural sources of UV radiation such as sunlight and artificial sources such as indoor tanning beds. Most commonly experienced on the face, head, and neck, this type of skin cancer is highly treatable because it grows slowly; however delaying treatment can result in more visible scarring after removal. If basal cell carcinoma is left untreated, it may grow into nearby parts of the body, thereby affecting other tissues or bones underneath the skin’s surface8. To help reduce the risk of this form of skin cancer, use broad spectrum UVA/UVB sun protection daily, especially on exposed areas such as the face, along with other sun protection measures.

Squamous cell carcinoma: The second most common skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, occurs in the cells that make up the uppermost layers of the skin. Those with a history of sun exposure are most prone to this type of skin cancer, which often begins as actinic keratoses, which are non-cancerous, rough, scaly patches on areas of sun-exposed skin. While squamous cell carcinoma is most common in sun-exposed areas such as the face, hands, and ears, it can also manifest in other parts of the body.

Melanoma: A malignant form of skin cancer, this is the most dangerous kind of skin cancer because it can put the patient's life at risk. The result of short intense bursts of sun exposure that cause sunburn, melanoma appears as brown or black spots on healthy skin and arises from a pre-existing mole in 29% of cases. If diagnosed during the early stages of development, the 5-year survival rate is 99%9. This decreases significantly if the cancer metastasizes and spreads to other parts of the body. If you find a suspicious lesion, it is vital that you consult a dermatologist.

WHO IS AT RISK FOR SKIN CANCER?

Use high-protection sunscreen if you fall into any of these categories

Several factors increase your risk of developing skin cancer. If any of the below apply to you, you should be especially diligent about using sunscreen daily to help decrease the risk of skin cancer:

1. You spend a lot of time outdoors, especially if your skin is not protected from the sun.
2. You have fair skin (type I or II on the Fitzpatrick scale), which tans very little and often burns.
3. You have freckles or moles that differ in appearance (size, shape, color).
4. You had severe sunburns as a child or were frequently exposed to strong sunlight during childhood and adolescence.
5. There is a history of skin cancer in your family.
 

These are just a few examples of risk factors. Other may include age, exposure to certain chemicals or radiation treatments, previous history of skin cancer, and a weakened immune system10.

MOLES AND THE SUN: A BAD COMBINATION

Protect moles with sunscreen to help reduce the risk of developing skin cancer

Moles on skin are relatively common and usually harmless, with the average person exhibiting 10-30 moles on their body11. Normal moles are usually round or oval in shape, with a smooth surface, and a diameter no bigger than 1/4 inch. Between childhood and adolescence, sun exposure influences the number of moles that may appear on the skin, as well as their size. While most moles appear before the age 3012, they can arise at any age. Irregular, enlarging, or discoloured moles may be a sign of skin cancer. The presence of a large amount of moles may increase the risk of skin cancer11.
This is why it’s essential to effectively protect children and adolescents from the sun to minimize the development of new moles. The bottom line: the use of a broad spectrum sunscreen helps protect skin from damaging UVA and UVB rays, which are known contributors to skin cancer. No matter your skin type or age, sunscreen should be applied generously every 2 hours, or more frequently if swimming or sweating.

HOW DO I KNOW IF MY MOLE IS CANCEROUS?

How to check your moles using the ABCDE method

Dermatologists have created the ABCDE method of mole checking to screen for moles that are potentially cancerous. If any of the following apply to your mole(s), you should see a dermatologist as soon as possible for a professional check.

A: Asymmetry - a mole that is not round or oval which has contours and coloring that are not evenly distributed around its center.

B: Border - Borders that are irregular or jagged, like on a map

C: Color - Several colors (brown, red, white, black)

D: Diameter - A diameter greater than 1/4 inch (the size of a pencil eraser).

E: Evolution - A mole that quickly changes in size, shape, thickness or color

In the case of a suspect, new, or a recently changed mole, you should consult your dermatologist as soon as possible to provide a qualified diagnosis.

SKIN CANCER RISK REDUCTION AND EARLY DETECTION

If detected early, the majority of skin cancers are curable. That is why screening is so important. If you notice a new mole, or a mole that is changing in appearance, or if you have never had a full body mole check, we strongly recommend seeing a dermatologist. Remember, the earlier skin cancer is diagnosed, the greater the chances of successful treatment. Between dermatologist visits, use the ABCDE method to keep an eye on your moles and those of your loved ones. And of course, make sunscreen a daily non-negotiable to help protect your skin from UV damage.

In 2010, La Roche-Posay introduced the SOS Save Our Skin Campaign to inform the public about the dangers of UV rays and the importance of practicing sun safe behaviors in order to help reduce the risk of skin cancer. In partnership with dermatologists nationwide, La Roche-Posay offers free skin cancer screenings at outdoor events and select retail locations. Find one near you.

Check out our SOS brochure for more information.

SUN SAFE BEHAVIORS IN CHILDHOOD HELP MINIMIZE THE RISK OF SKIN CANCER IN LATER LIFE

Studies have shown that sun damage and sunburns before the age of 15 play an important role in the origin of skin cancer, particularly melanoma13. Almost all skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to UV radiation, including 86% of melanoma cases14.

That’s why sun-safe behavior in childhood and adolescence is essential for safeguarding future skin health, even decades down the line. For this reason, it is important to educate children on sun smart behaviors at an early age. Important sun safety tips include:

  • Seek shade between 10 am and 2 pm when the sun’s rays are at their strongest
  • Wear protective clothing such as a hat, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirts, etc.
  • Generously apply a broad spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen every 2 hours, or more frequently if swimming or sweating. Click HERE to read more about the difference between UVA & UVB rays.

When selecting a sunscreen for kids, be sure that it is designed specifically for children’s delicate skin. One such sunscreen is Anthelios Sunscreen for Kids SPF 60. This pediatrician and dermatologist tested sunscreen is formulated with ingredients selected for children’s sensitive skin.

CAN SUNSCREEN CAUSE CANCER?

Is sunscreen safe?

Certain sunscreen ingredients have recently come under scrutiny, as a 2019 study found that some ingredients found in organic or chemical sunscreens may be absorbed by the body in higher levels than the expected threshold15. This has prompted users to question the safety of sunscreens.

Fact: No data published to date shows any adverse health effects in humans due to the regular use of sunscreen16. The safety of sunscreens has been investigated in laboratories and on live subjects for many years. The results of these studies offer compelling evidence that sunscreens are both safe and effective.
Click HERE to learn more about what to look for in sunscreens that are safe and effective.

Does sunscreen cause skin cancer?

Research has overwhelmingly shown that sunscreen use does not increase a person’s chances of developing melanoma17,18.

Fact: UV radiation is known to contribute to the development of skin cancer, and the use of sunscreens validates the protection of skin from damaging UV rays. In the case of melanoma, 86% of cases are attributed to overexposure to UV radiation5. A 2011 clinical study of more than 1,600 people published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology demonstrated that regularly applying sunscreen reduced melanoma occurrence by 50-73%19.

Fact: Protecting your skin daily with a broad spectrum sunscreen and checking moles regularly can help minimize your risk of skin cancer. For more information, download our SOS brochure. Here, you’ll find additional details on how to check your skin, detect suspicious moles as early as possible, and select the best sunscreen for your skin.

Reference
  1. https://www.webmd.com/melanoma-skin-cancer/guide/skin-cancer#1
  2. https://www.cancercenter.com/cancer-types/skin-cancer/risk-factors
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319173.php#1
  4. https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts
  5. https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts
  6. https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts
  7. https://www.webmd.com/melanoma-skin-cancer/news/20140530/5-or-more-bad-sunburns-while-young-tied-to-higher-melanoma-risk#1
  8. https://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/basal-cell-and-squamous-cell-carcinoma
  9. https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts
  10. https://www.skincancerprevention.org/skin-cancer/risk-factors
  11. https://www.webmd.com/melanoma-skin-cancer/guide/skin-cancer#1
  12. https://www.medicinenet.com/moles/article.htm
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6683475
  14. https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts
  15. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/is-your-sunscreen-safe
  16. Burnett, ME & Wang, SQ. Current sunscreen controversies: A critical review. Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine. 2010. 27, 58–67.
  17. Huncharek M, Kupelnick B. Use of topical sunscreens and the risk of malignant melanoma: a meta-analysis of 9067 patients from 11 case-control studies. Am J Public Health 2002; 92:1173-1177.
  18. Dennis LK, Beane Freeman LE, VanBeek MJ. Sunscreen use and the risk for melanoma: a quantitative review. Ann Intern Med 2003; 139:966-978.
  19. https://melanoma.org/sites/default/files/MRFSunscreenStatement.pdf

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