What do actor Hugh Jackman, former first lady Laura Bush and musician Bob Marley have in common? They all had skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., transcending gender, ethnicity and age. There are more occurrences of skin cancer than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer combined. And every hour, more than two Americans die from the disease.
Tanning and social norms
According to Dr. Mofid, there’s no such thing as a healthy tan. Tanned skin is a result of damage to skin cells, she says.
“Five sunburns during the course of a lifetime doubles your risk of developing skin cancer,” Dr. Mofid says. “That’s why skin protection is so important, particularly in young children so they don’t develop skin cancer later in life.”
Health risks, however, often give way to social pressure. And according to Dr. Mofid, we need to get to a place where sun tanning is not cool.
“Our societal perception of tanning is parallel to how people used to view smoking,” she says. “Everyone did it. Smoking was the cool thing to do — until it wasn’t.”
The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention says exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, tanning beds, fair skin and older age all increase a person’s chance for skin cancer. However, in pursuit of the perfect tan, many young people turn to tanning beds.
As a result, occurrences of melanoma — the deadliest type of skin cancer — have skyrocketed. Melanoma is now the leading cause of cancer death in women ages 25 to 30. “One solitary tanning session increases risk of skin cancer by 67%,” says Dr. Mofid.
She also points out that skin cancer isn’t limited to fair-skinned people — it touches every ethnicity. In the Hispanic population, rates of melanoma have increased 20% over the past few decades.
“Bob Marley had a dark complexion,” Dr. Mofid says. “But lost a four-year battle with melanoma that started on his toe.”
Ways to ban the burn
Skin cancer is largely preventable. To protect your skin, Dr. Mofid offers these six tips:
- Wear sunscreen every day.
- Select a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or above and apply generously. Make sure the label says “broad-spectrum” to protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
- For kids, apply sunscreen before going outside to prevent exposure before application.
- Be extra diligent about protecting skin between 10 am and 4 pm, when the sun’s rays are strongest.
- Reapply often. Water, humidity and sweating decrease the effectiveness of sunscreen. Even water-resistant sunscreens wear off, so it’s important to reapply frequently, especially when in and out of the water.
- Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeve shirt, a wide-brimmed hat that shades the ears and neck, and a rash guard for water activities.
Dr. Mofid also advises people to have their skin checked annually and talk with their doctor about any skin concerns. It is important to report any changes in — or any new — growths, spots, bumps or moles.