Dr. Perry Talks Skin Cancer Prevention

Skin Cancer Prevention 101 and Sun Protection

"Don't worry about a thing,

'Cause every little thing gonna be all right.

"Don't worry about a thing,

'Cause every little thing gonna be all right!"

Rise up this mornin',

Smiled with the risin' sun,

Three little birds

Pitch by my doorstep

Singin' sweet songs

Of melodies pure and true,

Sayin', ("This is my message to you-ou-ou :")

-Bob Marley's lyrics to “Three Little Birds”


Mr. Robert Nesta Marley (aka Bob Marley) is one of my lifelong favorite artists. He was a very earthy and spiritual man who passed away too early. Fortunately, his gifted messages will always live on through his music. Did you know he passed away from Malignant Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer? Are you as shocked as I was to learn about this part of his history? Given his desire to always impart important messages to assist us in life, I am sure he would want us to understand the importance of enjoying the sun in a healthy way and to prevent skin cancer.

The main reasons to protect against intense sun exposure is to prevent skin cancer; however, other benefits of doing so include a reduction in areas of discoloration/uneven tone, and the prevention of photo aging. Sun protection is best achieved by using the appropriate clothing (long sleeved shirts), wearing sunglasses, a wide brimmed hat and judicious use of sunscreen. Sunscreens have come under some scrutiny and there are some misconceptions about their ability to protect the skin without preventing Vitamin D deficiency. The last step of Vitamin D synthesis occurs in the skin and requires UV light (sunlight). Sunscreens, contrary to popular belief, do not prevent the absorption of 100% of the sun’s rays. They do protect against a portion of the most harmful rays that we expose ourselves to on a daily basis (even on a cloudy day). We receive enough Vitamin D in dietary sources to offset the prevention of adequate Vitamin D formation by the use of sunscreen. In addition, most women should already be taking Calcium and/or Vitamin D supplements to prevent osteoporosis (thinning of the bones), especially if there is a family history of such.

It is recommended that to get adequate protection, one wear a sunscreen of at least SPF 15. SPF 30 affords more protection and I often recommend that patients who are more likely to get sunburns rather than tan OR patients with issues of discoloration use it instead of SPF 15. Sunscreen should be applied thirty minutes before going outside and reapplied every two hours while remaining out. Sunscreen should be reapplied after swimming, even if it says waterproof.

Daily use of a facial moisturizer with sunscreen (also used on the hands and chest, if exposed) is also a great way to protect from damaging rays. We are all exposed to UV rays daily, even while driving in a car.

Recommended Products:

-Titanium Dioxide is one of the best physical sun blocking ingredients.

-Neutrogena makes great sunscreen products. Cetaphil and Aveeno have great moisturizers with sunscreen. For those with sensitive skin, Vanicream has a great sunscreen without irritating preservatives, fragrances and dyes.

-Although Shea butter purportedly has some sun protective effect, the amount of protection afforded has not been determined.

Rates of skin cancer have been increasing, possibly due to the destruction of the ozone layer. We are all being subject to more intense and harmful ultraviolet rays. Although melanin (skin pigment) is thought to afford some degree of protection, it is certainly not completely protective. Any individual who notices a rapidly growing mole (nevus) or a newly appearing mole which is asymmetrical, has irregular borders, a variation in color, or a diameter greater than the size of an eraser on pencil should have it evaluated by a dermatologist. These changes could indicate Melanoma. Any new appearing growth which is very rough, scaly, exhibiting bleeding or crusting should also be evaluated, as these symptoms may indicate a Basal or Squamous Cell skin cancer. An annual complete skin examination by a dermatologist and periodic self-exams (including the palms, soles and mouth) are great ways to maintain skin health.


Disclaimer: This information does not serve as a substitute for individual medical care by a physician. This article is an informative guide to point you in the right direction. All product recommendations and advice are suggestions which may or may not work for your individual needs. Specific medical issues and concerns should be addressed by your health care provider. Patricia Perry, M.D. is a dermatologist in private practice in Southern California who can be reached for consultation at 2625 W. Alameda Ave., Suite 504, Burbank, CA 91505. Phone: (818)559- SKIN (7546).

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