How to Save Yourself from Skin Cancer

The latest news on sunscreen ingredients, SPFs, melanoma warning signs, and more.
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How Sun Damage Happens

If you're using sunscreen every day, congratulations -- you're doing your skin a huge favor. But if you're like the vast majority of us who haven't quite been able to make slathering it on a regular habit, consider putting a bottle of the stuff in the medicine cabinet right next to your toothpaste. "Applying sunscreen should be as automatic as brushing your teeth," says Sandra Read, MD, an instructor of dermatology at Georgetown University and spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

Here's why: More than 1 million new skin-cancer cases will be diagnosed in the United States this year, 90 percent of them sun-related. Using sunscreen only when you go to the beach or work in the garden leaves you vulnerable to a huge amount of day-to-day sun exposure. "The good news is that wearing sunscreen every day and taking other sun-protective measures helps prevent both skin cancer and cosmetic changes -- dryness, wrinkles, and irregular pigmentation," notes Dr. Read. Protect your skin, starting today.

Sunlight contains two types of harmful rays -- ultra violet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). UVA rays cause wrinkling and premature aging; UVB rays are responsible for sunburn. (Remember: "A" for aging, "B" for burning.) Both cause skin cancer, but damage from UVA is sneaky. "Even when these rays have severely harmed the skin, signs don't show up right away," says Dr. Read.

When UVA and UVB rays penetrate the skin, they alter the DNA that controls cell growth and division. Too much damage can cause cancer. UVA rays also weaken the elastic fibers and harm the collagen that keeps skin smooth and youthful, says Dr. Read . It's UVA that causes dark-pigmented "age" spots.

The newest generation of sunscreens guards against both types of UV rays, not just UVB, as used to be the case. Look for UVA-blocking chemicals, such as Mexoryl (in L'Oreal and La Roche-Posay sunscreens) and Helioplex (from Neutrogena). It's never too late to start. "The skin has a natural repair process," explains dermatologist David J. Leffell, MD, professor of dermatology and surgery at Yale University. "If you keep it protected, you'll repair some of the damage."

Continued on page 2:  8 Burning Questions


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