ABC.. easy as 123.. hah! In all sincerity, skin cancer is a sneaky devil but learning the ABCDE’s of skin cancer is super easy and may even save your life one day. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S.! Whether you’ve spent ample time in the sun or not – you may be more at risk than you realize. So..let’s discuss how and what to do about it.
Some Sobering Statistics
In the U.S., more than 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every single day. Even more shocking is the grim fact that two people die of the disease every hour! (source: Skin Cancer Foundation). Sadly the incidence rate of skin cancers are going UP every year – which could be because we’re living longer, testing more, and spending lots of time out in the sun.
Were you aware that having just ONE blistering sunburn more than doubles your chances of developing melanoma? ONE.
Incidence Rates by Type
The Skin Cancer Foundation also states that 1 in 5 Americans will develop some form of skin cancer before the age of 70 and about 90% of diagnosed nonmelanoma skin cancers are the result of ultraviolet UV radiation exposure from sunlight – making the need for sunscreen all the more important.
Basal cell carcinomas are the most common skin cancers with a shocking 43 MILLION cases every year! Squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) are the second most prevalent with roughly 1 million cases each year. More worrisome, however; are the number of deaths every year due to squamous cell carcinomas: >15,000 deaths occur annually from SCC, which is twice that of melanoma (Mansouri & Housewright, 2017). Thankfully, with dutiful use of sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher), the risk of developing SCC drops by about 40%!
What do they look like?
Going from left to right, these are two basal cell carcinomas followed by two squamous cell carcinomas. As you can see, basal cell carcinomas tend to be red/pinkish with a pearly sheen to them. Squamous cell carcinomas can get crusty, rough and scaly and tend to occur in sun-exposed areas like face, nose, ears, neck, lips, and backs of the hands.
With all the scary stuff being said, let’s talk about being proactive! How can you tell what is worrisome?
Did you know what each of these stood for? Have you seen any of this on your own skin?
Let’s Talk about Tanning Beds
Okay so hand of truth, I was a tanning bed JUNKIE in my late teens. My best friend and I would go together, pick out a little sticker, tan for 15 minutes and leave feeling like bronzed goddesses. WHY?! This is what I find most frightening: indoor tanning devices can emit UV radiation in amounts 10 to 15 times higher than the sun at its peak intensity! Let’s say it again.. 10 to 15 TIMES HIGHER! Source: here. Many states have now banned the use of tanning beds in persons younger than 18 whereas some countries have banned tanning beds altogether. The facts surrounding tanning bed use and the risk of developing some form of skin cancer are incredibly eye opening… so you better believe I am ALWAYS checking my skin! If you’ve ever baked in a tanning bed, I encourage you to do the same.
Let’s also remember that 90% of skin aging is due to sun exposure. Daily use of sunscreen is so important because it has the ability to prevent wrinkles and premature skin aging as well as skin cancer. Comparatively those who routinely use sun screen show 24% less skin aging than those who don’t – so lesson being SPF = younger looking skin. Source: here.
So what can I do?
Although your chances of developing skin cancer can depend on genetics and environmental factors, the easiest and best thing you can do to prevent it is to wear a daily sunscreen. Fortunately, many products now come with added sunscreen. Lotions, skincare products and cosmetics more often than not now have some form of SPF.
How Much Sunscreen Should I Use?
Do you have to basically bathe in a tub of sunscreen? No. But believe me, sunscreen is not the product to be using sparingly. Be sure to use at least a dime sized portion for every body part, and to add more to larger areas (legs, back, trunk, etc). One thing I commonly see a lot of is neglect in the areas we don’t really see like the back of the neck, the backs and upper lobe of the ears, backs of the hands, and the hairline. Make sure you’re adequately covering those areas and blending your face sunscreen into your hairline. Directly apply sunscreen to your neck – not just blending down whatever is left from your face. Our neck and decolletage see A LOT of sun and very easily show signs of aging. Your skin loves to feel moisturized, you can’t go wrong with too much product. Just give yourself a nice little soothing massage until your skin soaks it up.
A Little Myth Busting
So there’s a lot of uncertainty when it comes to sunscreens, particularly when it comes to what SPF count does for you. We talked about UV rays up above….. quiz check, were you paying attention? A common myth most of us (me included) grew up believing regarding SPF is that the higher the SPF (15 vs 50) the greater amount of protection we get. Realistically, SPF 15 smack attacks about 93 percent of UVB rays, while SPF 30 karate chops 97 percent and SPF 50 body slams 98 percent – all in all those numbers are pretty dang good, right? The key factor is to RE-APPLY throughout the day/time in the sun. Remember there is no sunscreen that offers 100 percent protection, sadly. I still try to apply at least SPF 50 when I’m fully out in the sun because personally I feel like every little percentage increase counts, but when I’m indoors I’ll opt for something like SPF 15.
Types of Sunscreens
Okay so clearly there are LOTS of categories and subcategories of sunscreens.. it’s hard to know where to start right? What do they all mean and what’s the difference? Let’s discuss.
Broad spectrum sunscreens protect you from both UVA & UVB rays. If you didn’t know, UVA rays cause damage within the skin whereas UVB rays cause burns. Ideally you want to purchase a sunscreen that’s going to keep you the safest which means UVA and UVB coverage.
These sunscreens defend you from UV rays by absorbing them with chemical ingredients, such as octocrylene or avobenzone. There’s a lot of literature out there about the safety of chemical sunscreens – you do you. Keep in mind, however; octocrylene has been shown to accumulate in various types of aquatic life causing various alterations in DNA. Even more concerning is the fact that concentrations of harmful UV filters including octocrylene have been found in seafood that humans consume. Not ideal. Chemical sunscreens are absorbed into our bodies and can be measured in our blood and urine!
I find this term elusive because it’s definitely attention-grabbing and advertises that it’s perhaps a more optimal choice than brand x next to it that doesn’t happen to claim the same thing. Notice, however; it doesn’t disclose what benefit, if any, it’s actually tested for.
I actually didn’t know gluten products worked their way into things like shampoos or sunscreens .. so that’s new. But just for your enlightenment along with my own, the Gluten Intolerance Group will adorn its officially GFCO seal on beauty products with less than or equal to 10 parts per million. I’m more curious if things like wheat proteins or gluten products are systemically absorbed and problematic through use of shampoos or other beauty products with it in the ingredients. Super interesting.
Also new to me and highly eyebrow-raising is the fact that the FDA doesn’t consistently regulate this term. This means manufacturers can market a product without any hard evidence of the product not triggering allergic reactions. You know your body best and what might potentially trigger a reaction – always scan the ingredients including the use of fragrances.
Cue the above convo about chemical sunscreens. Mineral sunscreens defend your skin with actual physical barriers like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide (remember the periodic table?). Instead of absorbing the UV rays into the formulation – these guys fend them off like a game of ping pong. Also: zinc oxide is less likely to cause allergies due to its naturally occurring anti-inflammatory properties.
Back in the day before my skincare enlightenment I DESPISED sunscreen on my face because it would ALWAYS break me out. NO THANKS. Enter age 34 and I welcome a pimple (comedone) over a wrinkle. My best advice if your face is known to betray your love and tender affection with break outs is to opt for sunscreens with ingredients like salicylic acid and zinc oxide that help prevent clogged pores. And by all means necessary, avoid coconut oil – that did NOT agree with my skin one bit.
Oil free …. wait for it…… doesn’t contain oils!
(Be sure to still check the ingredients for other slippery things like silicones).
Dang there’s a lot of rules to be deemed organic, did you know? The official USDA seal indicates a brand’s claim to organic ingredients but unless you’re literally breaking open an aloe vera plant – no sunscreen can be completely organic.
Much like hypoallergenic labeling, this isn’t fully regulated either. Reef safe technically means that the product doesn’t contain any of these five ingredients: oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, 4-methylbenzylidene, or butyl-paraben. Protect the reefs! See more below.
Okay so in my head I imagined this to mean the sunscreen is batting away sand like flies. It actually means that the SPF factor doesn’t change with sand exposure. Hmph.
I don’t really have sensitive skin. Very few products cause any type of reaction on me but I know many of you do! A safer bet is to go with mineral/physical sunscreens that are fragrance free. Read your labels as always and test spot before applying all over.
My definition of sport in the sunshine is how long and effectively I can nap, read my book, and enjoy a cocktail. For those who actually break a sweat – ‘sport’ sunscreens are supposed to be a better “stick.” To me, this sounds a lot like the category below.
In and out of the water? No prob. These sunscreens are supposed to still stick around for a good long while whether or not you’ve been in the water/dried off frequently. Even so, make sure to reapply.
My friend Lauren reminded me on Instagram about checking the ingredients to make sure they’re reef safe! Supergoop, Tula (use code TARARRIZED for 15% off on their website!), and EltaMD products above are all reef safe. COOLA is another great reef safe brand. Lauren wrote two incredible posts about clean sunscreens here and here. When you’re scanning ingredients be sure to look for oxybenzone and octinoxate. These ingredients are believed to contribute to coral bleaching. You also want to avoid sunscreens containing petrolatum, commonly known as mineral oil, which takes years to biodegrade, and are known to be harmful or fatal to aquatic life and waterfowl. Also be on the lookout for sunscreens with high content of Titanium Dioxide. This mineral does not biodegrade and is found to react in warm seawater to form hydrogen peroxide which is harmful to all sea life.
Obviously these aren’t the only products combined with SPF – many other drug store and designer cosmetics add SPF into their products. The above listed products are either ones I’ve used or are by brands I like. I always try to buy my powders, bb and cc creams, tinted moisturizers and foundations with SPF that way I know I’ve got a good base of protection on my face whether I’m wearing full makeup or not. Our faces are one of the most exposed places on our body – I promise you the last thing you want is to undergo an extensive Moh’s procedure to remove a skin cancer on your nose or face. Those procedures, though necessary, are deeply invasive and can end up removing MUCH more surrounding skin than just the suspicious lesion.
You might be wondering how to best cleanse your skin now that you’re applying more product to your face? I always always always double wash my face to make sure I get all the gunk out of my pores. That first initial wash does a mediocre sweep, but you’ll be shocked how much comes off after a second wash! I use these reusable wash pads with my facewash. You can check out my entire skincare routine here.
As always, if you have any questions or worries about your skin – whether it seems like a freckle or it’s a mole you’ve never seen before – never ever feel afraid to get it checked out. It’s most definitely better to be safe than sorry. Having your provider take a quick glance at a mole that’s causing you stress is much easier than dealing with extensive disease that could’ve been caught MUCH earlier. FYI it’s also quite easy to remove a mole if you want it removed, or if the provider thinks it’s a good idea. They’ll get ya all numbed up and have it sliced off in minutes (which sounds grotesque but really only requires a band-aid).
As always, thanks for reading – and stay safe friends.