You and your children have just arrived at a local beach for a day of fun and relaxation when you realize that you left your sunscreen at home.
The thought of driving to a nearby drugstore to buy a bottle crosses your mind, but that seems like such an inconvenience. Your children are already splashing around in the water. Well, perhaps it’s not a big deal; it’s only a few hours in the sun. Not using sunscreen for one day can’t possibly cause any harm. Think again.
“Sun damage is cumulative, so it’s important to protect your skin from the sun every single day,” says Ali Hendi, M.D., F.A.A.D., a board-certified dermatologist and skin cancer specialist in private practice in Chevy Chase. “One blistering sunburn during childhood more than doubles your risk of developing melanoma later in life. You don’t have to be a hermit; just be smart. Live your life, but live smartly.”
According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. More than two million skin cancers are diagnosed each year in the United States, and the number of skin cancer cases is higher than the incidence of cancers of the prostate, breast, lung, colon, uterus, ovaries and pancreas combined. There are two main types of skin cancer: keratinocyte cancers (basal and squamous cell skin cancers) and melanomas.
Although cancer researchers may not know what causes all forms of cancer, they do know the main risk factor for skin cancer: exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, two types of rays, ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB), are especially harmful. UVA rays cause premature aging of the skin, such as wrinkles and age spots. They can also suppress your immune system, which may interfere with your body’s ability to protect you from developing skin cancer. UVB rays cause sunburn. However, excessive exposure to both rays can cause skin cancer. The United States Department of Health and Human Services has declared UV radiation—from natural sunlight and artificial sources (such as tanning beds)—as a carcinogen. Although the statistics and facts may be frightening, you can take steps to protect yourself and your children from the sun’s harmful rays.