Q: Why do I need to protect myself from the sun?
A: The number of cases of skin cancer increases each year. Almost all of these skin cancers are the result of too much sun exposure. Sunburn is the worst kind of sun damage because it increases the chance of you getting a very bad form of skin cancer called melanoma.
Q: Are there different kinds of skin cancer? What are they?
A: Skin cancers are caused by abnormal growth of skin cells. The three main types of skin cancer are basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma.
Basal cell cancers are the most common, occurring on sun-exposed skin, especially the face, arms and back. They do not spread to other parts of the body but might cause problems if found on the nose or eyelids.
Squamous cell cancers, the second most common skin cancer, also occur on sun-exposed skin. They can spread to other parts of the body.
Melanoma is the third type of skin cancer. Less common, melanoma is the most serious type. It is related to serious sunburns as a child. It often presents as a changing or new mole or dark spot on the skin.
Q: Is there a way to possibly prevent skin cancer?
A: Everyone should wear sunscreen.
Certain medications might make you more sun sensitive. It is important to inform your doctor that you work outdoors for long periods of time and ask if new medications might increase sun sensitivity.
Q: But it is cloudy outside. Do I still need sun protection?
A: Yes. Don’t let an overcast day fool you. The harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun that cause damage and sunburns easily penetrate cloud cover. Sunscreens and sun protection are just as important on cloudy days.
Q: What is the best sunscreen?
A: Sunscreens come in all forms: lotions, gels, sprays, pastes and creams. Sunscreens contain chemicals or inert metal oxides or a combination of both that absorb or block the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation so it does not reach your skin.
Look for a sunscreen that is “broad spectrum” or that states “blocks UVA and UVB rays,” with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 15 or higher. If you are going to sweat or get wet, a waterproof sunscreen might be a better choice.
Q: When and how often should I apply sunscreen?
A: Sunscreens should be applied at least 30 minutes prior to sun exposure and reapplied every two to three hours. Re-apply every one to two hours if you are sweating or get wet. Apply to all skin not covered by clothing.
Q: Besides sunscreen, what other forms of sun protections should I be using?
A: Wear a wide-brimmed hat that shades the nose and ears. Wear sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection (skin cancers can happen on the backs of your eyes).
Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants. Rest out of the sun in shady areas. Use clothing and hats with built in SPF.
Bill Stephens, PA-C, sees patients at both May River Dermatology locations, in Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island.