Ah, the good old days when Memorial Day signaled that it was time to start working on your summer tan.
We flocked to the beach, baby oil and reflectors in hand. Those of us who were fair-skinned burned first, slathering on the Noxema medicated cream to ease the pain.
Later, it was fun to peel off sheets of skin. My friend Amanda got so burnt at our beach house that my mother had her soak in a bath of tea bags. The tan that I got post-sunburn was even better the summer I was a lifeguard. My mother told us to get out of the sun, but what did she know?
Well, actually, mother knew best. Those were actually the bad old days when it came to our future health.
As beach season begins, it bears repeating: There is no such thing as a healthy tan.
Any tan at all is a sign of skin damage. Skin tans in response to UV damage to the skin’s DNA; a tan is the skin’s attempt to repair sun damage and prevent further injury. But these imperfect repairs can cause gene defects that can lead to skin cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
It is preventable, yet many sun worshippers still don’t get it.
"Melanoma is directly related to sun exposure from 30 years ago," Otis Brawley, M.D., chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, told me."When you go to the beach and see people lying in the sun, they are making melanoma. Some use sun block as an excuse to get more sun exposure, but they are still harming their skin."
According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, accounting for nearly half of all cancers in the United States. More than 3.5 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer are diagnosed each year.
Basil and squamous cell skin cancer rarely spread to other parts of the body and can be cured if treated early. Melanoma is also almost always curable when found in its early stages but is far more dangerous than other skin cancers and causes the most skin cancer deaths. According to the American Cancer Society, it will account for more than 76,600 cases of invasive skin cancer in 2013 and for more than 9,000 of the 12,000-plus skin cancer deaths each year.
I personally have had two squamous cell cancers removed by the most common technique, Mohs surgery, in which a surgeon removes the cancerous tissue and its margins, examines it under a microscope to determine if enough tissue has been removed, and then repeats the process until satisfied that the cancer is all gone.
The one removed from under my eye left a small hole that needed to be repaired by another surgeon who made a graft with skin taken from above my eyelid. She joked that I had just gotten a free eyelift. I asked if she could even me out, but she said no and that I really wouldn’t notice the difference.
Here are some prevention tips from the Skin Cancer Foundation:
Seek the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Do not burn.
Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses or at least a baseball cap or visor especially if you’ll be outside for extended periods of time golfing, running, playing tennis, or doing other activities.
Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. (Ultraviolet A stands for the sun’s long waves, and UVB for short waves.)
Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
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