Why Everyone Should Protect Their Skin

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Do you know what the most common cancer among people 25-29 years old is? It’s melanoma, which is one of the three types of skin cancer according to Facts and Statistics about Skin Cancer from the Center for Disease Control Prevention site, accessed April 17, 2006. This is a very large problem because exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays is the strongest environmental factor to the development of skin cancer, as well as premature aging. We all are subject to the sun’s UV rays, and therefore the risks also. As someone who possesses almost all of the major risk factors of someone who can easily get skin cancer as well as premature aging, I care for others who are also at risk and don’t know that they should be protecting themselves or even how to do so. In fact, this problem is so large that the American Cancer Society site accessed April 16, 2006, estimates that there will be about 10,710 deaths from skin cancer in the year 2006, 7,910 of those from melanoma and 2,800 from other skin cancers.

First, let’s talk about what skin cancer is. There are three types of skin cancer. There is melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. The article There Goes the Sun, written by Jaime DeBlanc-Knowles from The Environment Magazine, states that since the tan became a fashion statement in the 1970s, cancer rates in the U.S. have risen dramatically.

One type of cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, may appear to be like growing lumps, and often have a scaly or crusted surface or as slowly growing flat reddish-colored patches. Besides those, there are also basal cell carcinomas that usually appear to be firm and flat pale-colored areas or as small, but raised pink-red (or even translucent) areas that are shiny and waxy. These spots are notorious for bleeding following a minor injury. They may have a lower spot in the center of them, and blue, black or brown areas. Basal cell carcinomas that are large may have oozing, crusty areas as well. However, in terms of cancer, these types are the least of your worries. Melanoma, which I mentioned earlier as the most common cancer in people ages 25-29, is more deadly. Melanoma can be tricky. It can appear as a mole larger than six millimeters across, a discolored mole, a mole with an irregular border, or one that is asymmetrical. Because of these irregularities, it can also be a bit easy to misdiagnose.

The previously mentioned American Cancer Society tells about the survival story of Linda Talbott in its article, Melanoma Survivor Relishes Everyday, accessed on May 2, 2006. One day, when Linda Talbott was washing her face, she noticed a dark fleck under her left eye that wouldn’t wash away. Within a week, this fleck grew larger, so she called a dermatologist. As she waited for her appointment day to come, the fleck continued to grow, and one day it began to bleed so she rushed to the doctor immediately. She found out that it was melanoma, and that this fleck was actually one of two spots. Another was on her cheek, but it had been misdiagnosed years earlier as an age spot and had been burned off. Because of this misdiagnosis, the cancerous tissue beneath the cheek-spot had been growing and spreading. Extensive surgery had to be performed in order to get rid of it all. This surgery left her permanently scarred. Today, one of Linda Talbott’s eyes can no longer close completely, part of her cheek is missing and she had to have physical therapy to regain proper motion in her mouth.

Besides cancer, sun damage may consist of many things, such as premature aging like wrinkles and spots.

Exposure to the sun’s UV-A and UV-B rays, and by “UV rays” I mean ultraviolet. The UV-A rays are the ones that cause tanning and aging, while the UV-B rays are the ones that cause sunburn. Because of these rays, cancer, wrinkles, age spots or textural roughness can develop over time.

In fact, tanning itself is a symptom of the damage. Many people don’t realize this. According to the book Photoaging: Basic and Clinical Dermatology, written by Darrell S. Rigel, when UV-A rays penetrate the skin, it causes the cells to darken and mutate. Healthy cells are able to regenerate, but after extreme exposure, they lose their regenerative abilities and this results in molecular cell damage. This is where skin cancer comes in. According to the article, WHO Warns Teens on Tanning Beds, from the American Cancer Society,accessed on April 16, 2006, there is absolutely no evidence that tanning in a bed is any safer than tanning in the sun. In fact, it reports that there are studies that say that some tanning beds release much stronger UV light than the sun does.

ACS also states in its article, Sunlight and Ultraviolet Exposure, accessed April 17, 2006, that the short-term results of unprotected exposure to UV rays are sunburn and tanning, while long-term exposure causes prematurely aged skin, wrinkles, loss of elasticity (which speeds up the “sagging” process of the skin), dark patches (which are age spots or lentigos) and actinic keratosis. Actinic keratosis usually appear as pink-red or flesh colored rough spots that usually develop on the ears, face, arms and back of the hands and, according to Skin Cancer Prevention and Early Detection, from the American Cancer Society,accessed April 28, 2006, can grow into squamous cell cancers later.

The previously mentioned book, Photoaging: Basic and Clinical Dermatology, had an example of two identical twin women who participated in a study in England about aging effects. They were in their 40s and one was an avid sunscreen-wearer, while the other was known as “sun worshipper” and claimed that she had tanned in a bed for at least 20 minutes almost every day for the last 15 years. The one that had tanned for those years had extensive sun damage on her face in the form of wrinkles and deep lines around her eyes, her forehead, her mouth and her cheeks, and also age spots on her cheeks and forehead. Her sister, who deliberately wore sunscreen almost every day had only a few light lines on the outside of her eyes. It was reported by someone that these two women who were once identical appearing and shared the exact same genetic makeup looked at least 20 years apart in age. The study concluded that sun damage can account for up to 70-80% of external aging, depending on the case.

Sun exposure can also do a real number on your eyes. According to Protecting Your Eyes from the Sun, an article provided by the Vision Learning Center site, accessed April 17, 2006, UV-A rays can hurt your central vision by damaging the part of the retina at the back of your eye called the macula, while the UV-B rays can cause even more damage because the front part of your eye (like the cornea and lens) absorb the UV-B rays. Some examples of ocular damage that come from exposure to UV rays include macular degeneration (which is blurred vision and eventual blindness), skin cancer around the eyelids, pterygium (which is an abnormal mass of tissue arising from the conjunctiva of the inner corner of the eye that obstructs vision by growing over the cornea), cataracts (opacity of the lens or capsule of the eye, causing impairment of vision or blindness) and photokeratitis (inflammation of the cornea caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation). These are problems that everyone is at risk of, but people who spend long periods of time in the sun are most at risk. These UV rays do not only reach the eyes (or skin) directly from the sky above, but also from reflection from the ground, and especially reflection from snow, sand or water.

The Eye Book: A Complete Guide to Eye Disorders and Health, written by Gary H. Cassel, Michael D. Billig, and Harry G. Randall, tells of a case in which a man who was a carpenter that worked outside a lot. This man refused to wear sunglasses.. In his 40’s, he noticed that everything seemed much dimmer than they should be, and he found out after going to the doctor that he had developed macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in people over age 65, so it was a bit rare for a man his age to have it, but that’s what long-time exposure to UV light can do. Unfortunately, in macular degeneration, there is no is no effective way to restore vision.

Like I said earlier, if you don’t do something to protect your skin from UV rays now, you’ll have some not-so-pleasant results later in your life, and this goes for everyone no matter where they live. In my own experience I’ve found that it’s a common misconception that a lot of people seem to think that something such as skin cancer only happens to people who live in really hot or sunny regions like Florida or Hawaii, but that simply isn’t the case. Skin cancer happens to people right here. In my own hometown, my aunt found a spot on her ear. Since it was kind of hard for her to see in the mirror, she didn’t really get a good look at it and dismissed it at a bump. A few weeks later, it got her attention once again because it has grown a little rough on the surface and was kind of itchy. At everyone’s insistence, she finally went to a specialist to find that it had once been actinic keratosis, but had now developed into squamous cell carcinoma. True, she was lucky that it wasn’t melanoma, but still the spot had to be removed, as well as the area around it. She now has about one-third of her ear missing because of this happening. This topic is important because everyone is at risk, and young people are no exception to the potentially fatal results of this problem.

There are many ways that this problem can be prevented. One is to simply avoid the outdoors when the sun’s rays are at their strongest, which is between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. according to Get Smart About the Sun, a pamphlet from Coppertone Suncare Products.

Another solution is to wear protective clothing when you’re outdoors, as well as wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses while you’re out to help block the sun’s rays from reaching your skin.

In my opinion, the easiest solution, which is also my personal solution, is to wear sunscreen while you’re outdoors. The previously mentioned pamphlet, Get Smart About the Sun, from Coppertone Suncare Products, says that SPF 30 and 45 products block more than 96% of the burning UV rays, but to do that, you must apply liberally and evenly 30 minutes before you go outside. When you choose a sunscreen, you should choose one that has at least a Sun Protection Factor, SPF, of at least 15, but SPF 30 or 45 is optimal. Also, you need to make sure that the sunscreen you choose is broad-spectrum, which means that it contains protection against both UV-A rays and UV-B rays, not just one or the other.

As we now all know, even though being outside enjoying the sunshine is something we all like to do, it can be very harmful in the long run, with results of premature aging, or worse, skin cancer. Because of this, we should all make sure we remember to wear our sunscreen on all exposed areas while we’re outdoors. This is a very important issue since many of us are in the target age of 25-29 years that acquire melanoma.

Works Cited

Cassel, Gary H., Michael D. Billig, and Harry G. Randall. The Eye Book: A Complete Guide to Eye Disorders and Health. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

DeBlanc-Knowles, Jaime. “There Goes the Sun.” Environmental Magazine 14(July/Aug 2003): 54.

“Facts and Statistics about Skin Cancer.” Cancer Prevention and Control. 2005. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. April 17, 2006 .

“Get Smart About the Sun.” Coppertone Suncare Products 2003

“Melanoma Survivor Relishes Every Day.” ACS News Center. May 28, 2003. American Cancer Society. May 2, 2006 <http://www.cancer.org/docroot/FPS/content/FPS_1_Melanoma_Survivor_Relishes_Every_Day.asp?SiteArea=>.

“Protecting Your Eyes from the Sun.” Prevent Blindness. 2005. The Vision Learning Center. April 17, 2006 .

Rigel, Darrell S.. Photoaging: Basic and Clinical Dermatology. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc, 2004.

“Skin Cancer Facts.” Prevention and Early Detection. April 05, 2006. American Cancer Society. April 16, 2006 .

“Skin Cancer Prevention and Early Detection.” Prevention and Early Detection. April 27, 2006. American Cancer Society. April 28, 2006 .

“Sunlight and Ultraviolet Exposure.” Prevention and Early Detection. Feb. 9, 2006. American Cancer Society. April 17, 2006 .

“WHO Warns Teens on Tanning Beds.” ACS News Center. March 29, 2005. American Cancer Society. April 16, 2006 .                                                                        


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