Did you know the Friday before Memorial Day is designated as Don’t Fry Day? *badum-ching!* The focus of this day is to raise awareness of sun safety and the importance of protecting your skin. There are people who always have sunblock at the ready and apply two coats, and then there are those who forget and just simply don’t even think to use sunblock. My boyfriend is the latter. He’s a landscaper, in the sun all day, and I have to chase after him out the front door spraying sunblock on him reprimanding him about the dangers of skin cancer.
While the feel of the sun on your face is amazing, the sun (and other sources such as tanning beds) gives off ultraviolet (UV) rays which are the number one cause of skin cancer. However, the sun also provides vitamin D which is good for your body, so don’t think of the sun as the evil cancer-giving star in the sky. We just need to enjoy the sun with caution.
How to Protect Yourself from Too Much Sun
Cancer.org gives suggestions on the best ways to stay sun-safe:
- Cover up. When you are out in the sun, wear clothing and a wide-brimmed hat to protect as much skin as possible. Protect your eyes with sunglasses that block at least 99% of UV rays.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. A broad-spectrum sunscreen protects your skin from both types of UV rays that can harm your skin – UVA and UVB. UVA rays can prematurely age your skin, causing wrinkling and age spots. UVB rays can burn your skin.
- Seek shade. Limit your direct exposure to the sun, especially between 10 am and 4 pm, when UV rays are strongest.
- Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. Both can cause serious long-term skin damage and contribute to skin cancer.
I personally never knew what type of sunscreen to buy. For years I thought sunscreen wasn’t that important because I have olive skin so I don’t burn very easily. I didn’t actually realize that just because I don’t burn, doesn’t mean the UV rays still aren’t harmful to me. I now am much better about using sunscreen. If you aren’t sure what kind of sunscreen you should be using, check out this post from the Skin Cancer Foundation: How to Choose the Right Sunscreen for Your Skin Type.
Sunscreen facts and tips from the Mayo Clinic:
- Apply sunscreen to dry skin 15 minutes before you go outdoors.
- Use sunscreen on all skin surfaces that will be exposed to the sun, such as your face, ears, hands, arms, and lips. If you don’t have much hair on your head, apply sunscreen to the top of your head or wear a hat.
- Sand, water, and snow all reflect sunlight which means it’s even more important to use sunscreen on these surfaces.
- Choose sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher; however, while the higher SPF numbers do mean more protection, the higher you go, the smaller the difference becomes. For example, SPF 50 filters out about 98 percent of UVB rays while SPF 100 filters out about 99 percent.
- Water-resistant sunscreen only protects for 40-80 minutes while swimming or sweating. Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours if you’ll be in water or sweating.
- There are many forms of sunscreen applications and each are useful in different settings:
- Creams – If you have dry skin, you might prefer a cream – especially for your face.
- Lotions – Lotions are often preferred for application on large areas. Lotions tend to be thinner and less greasy than creams.
- Gels – Gels work best in hairy areas, such as the scalp and a man’s chest.
- Sticks – Sticks are useful when applying sunscreen around the eyes.
- Sprays – Parents often prefer sprays because they’re easy to apply on children. Because it’s difficult to know how well you’re applying spray, apply a generous and even coating. Or consider using a gel or cream first and using a spray to reapply sunscreen later. Also, avoid inhaling the product. Don’t apply spray near heat, an open flame, or while smoking.
- UV rays can still pass through clouds. A cloudy day doesn’t mean you don’t need to apply sunscreen.
How Skin Cancer Occurs
Ultraviolet rays often have enough energy to remove an electron from an atom or molecule, making them a form of ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation can damage DNA in the cells of our body, which in turn can lead to cancer. UV rays don’t have enough energy to penetrate the body, which is why this cancer only affects the skin.
According to SkinCancer.org, basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. More than four million cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Squamous cell is the second most common with more than one million cases each year. Both of these types of skin cancers are linked to the following behaviors:
- Spending time in the sun for recreation (including going to the beach)
- Spending a lot of time in the sun in a swimsuit
- Living in an area with a high amount of sun
- Having had serious sunburns in the past (with more sunburns linked to a higher risk)
- Having signs of sun damage to the skin, such as liver spots.
Melanoma accounts for less than one percent of skin cancer cases, but it is the deadliest. An estimated 9,730 people will die of melanoma in 2017. The following behaviors are linked to melanoma of the skin:
- Activities that lead to “intermittent sun exposure,” like sunbathing, water sports, and taking vacations in sunny places
- Previous sunburns
- Signs of sun damage to the skin, such as liver spots.
Regular daily use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by about 40 percent and the risk of developing melanoma by 50 percent.
How Skin Cancer Affects Buying Life Insurance
Thankfully skin cancer is the easiest to cure, if diagnosed and treated early. If you have a history of basal or squamous cell carcinoma (and you’re in remission) you may still even be eligible for Preferred (a.k.a. the best) life insurance rates. If you have a history of melanoma, you’ll be seen as a slightly higher risk in the eyes of insurance companies, but depending on your factors even Standard rates can be obtained.
If skin cancer is in your medical history, take a look at our blog post Ask an Underwriter: Skin Cancer. We get really in-depth on the cause and effect of skin cancer on life insurance rates. Curious on how much term life insurance costs? Get a free quote today in less than a minute – no personal contact information required and no commitment.
Photo credit to: Tomas Salas