So what’s the connection between sun exposure and melanoma?
Skin cancer is a disease that starts in skin cells when they receive confusing instructions, resulting in their abnormal behavior. Cancer cells, rather than dying, continue to grow uncontrolled.
After a while, groups of abnormal cells form a lump (mass), or tumor, some of which may be cancerous (not all tumors are malignant).
This process can take many years. Indeed, it can take a long time between the time when cancer begins to develop in the body and when it is clinically detectable.
Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most common, but also one of the easiest to avoid.
Can sun exposure cause skin cancer?
The short answer is YES! Prolonged sun exposures should be avoided in young people with light skin (blonde and red with freckles), this is called skin with a “clear phototype” that usually tan with difficulty.
The presence of more than 40 moles, some more than 5 mm in diameter, repeated sunburn, a profession that exposes to the sun or the existence of a history of melanoma in the family exposes to a risk of skin cancer.
If you are at risk of skin cancer, it is advisable to have your skin checked regularly by a doctor(including areas usually under clothing). You should also consult your treating physician if a suspicious spot appears or if a mole has changed its appearance.
What are ultraviolet rays and what are their risks?
Solar radiation that reaches the earth during the day consists of 39% visible radiation (light), 56% infrared and 5% ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet radiation (UV) has a short wavelength and is therefore very penetrating. Some of this radiation is normally stopped by the Earth’s atmosphere, especially by the ozone layer, but some of it reaches the ground.
UVA accounts for 95% of ultraviolet rays and burns 1000 times less than UVB rays, but it is harder to stop: UVA is not stopped by glass or clouds and penetrates deep into the skin to reach the dermis. Prolonged UVA exposure damages the skin’s elastin and collagen fibers and causes free radicals to be activated in the deep layers of the skin.
These radicals are toxic and promote the development of skin cancers (they can also cause eye damage such as cataracts or retinal damage). UVA produces pigmentation within minutes of sun exposure due to the oxidation of melanin already present in the skin, but it is a short-lived tan.
UVB scans only 5% of ultraviolet light and is stopped by glass and clouds. UVB burns the upper part of the skin, the epidermis, and therefore causes sunburn. Only 10% of them reach the deep layers of the skin. UVBs normally produce “delayed tanning” as it appears 48 to 72 hours after sun exposure. This prolonged tan is secondary to the synthesis of melanin, the black pigment of the skin, by specialized skin cells: melanocytes.
How can you prevent skin cancer?
- Avoid artificial tanning
To reduce the risk of skin cancer, the first step is to avoid the use of artificial tanning devices. Their UV radiation is dangerous to health. If the desire for a tanned complexion itches us, self-tanning creams are not harmful and the result is quite convincing!
Be sure to use a self-tanner with an SPF (sunscreen factor) of at least 30, as cosmetic tanning offers no protection against ultraviolet rays.
Avoid periods of great sunshine
Then, as much as possible, outdoor activities are avoided between 11 am and 4 pm, when the sun and UV rays are most hot. The priority is given to the hours of the day when the UV index is less than 3.
A little tip: if we notice that our shadow is shorter than us, it is because the sun is at its zenith. It is, therefore, time to look for shade or to focus on indoor activities.
- Apply sunscreen
There is nothing like sunscreen to reduce exposure to UV rays. On the other hand, sunscreen does not block all the sun’s rays. It is therefore not advisable to rely solely on sunscreens but to use them as additional protection. The sunscreen chosen should have a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. If you are working outdoors or planning to spend most of the day outdoors, you must choose an SPF of at least 50.
- Cover up
One of the best ways to avoid sunburn is to dress accordingly by choosing light, loose, long and tightly woven clothing (so as not to let UV pass).
- Wear a hat
It is known that most skin cancers develop on the face and neck, so it is important to think about wearing a hat to offer these parts of the body additional protection. It is chosen with wide edges to protect the head, face, ears and neck.
Caps are not recommended as they only protect the face. Despite wearing the hat, sunscreen should not be overlooked, which is generously applied to the entire face, not to mention the ears and neck.
- Examine our skin regularly
Sun exposure and melanoma are closely linked. There are a lot of studies that clearly show how overexposure to the Sun may lead to skin cancer. Be smart and always think ahead. Prevention is the best treatment!