It’s the time of year again, where we kiss the rain and short days goodbye and say hello sunshine, flowers, and wearing sunscreen.
For Oregonians, emerging from hibernation and enjoying more extended daylight hours is a much-anticipated time of year filled with making great memories with family and friends. It’s almost as if you can feel your mood and energy improving, like being plugged into a solar charging station.
So most of us here in Oregon, understandably so, take a sigh of relief in knowing most of the skin cancer diagnoses are found in Hawaii and Florida, right?
Not so Fast Dreamers
Though most people think of Florida and Hawaii as being high risk due to the sun, demographics show that there is a significant risk in temperate climates despite less total sun exposure to the regions with the Pacific Northwest showing one of the highest rates of new diagnoses.
Yeah, our great Pacific Northwest shows one of the highest rates of new skin cancer diagnoses in the country. Sneaky skin cancers.
However, don’t fret. We’re going to go over the good things about the sun, and how to enjoy that all safely.
Benefits of the Sun
For once, the medical opinion agrees. Studies have shown that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can make depression worse, and with decreased Vitamin D levels comes decreased resilience and coping skills for daily stressors.
That means it’s great to get outside and soak up all that sun. Here are just a few benefits of the sun:
- Increased Vitamin D levels
- Stronger Bones
- Improved Brain Function
- Overall happier mood (which we can all agree on, yes?)
Don’t forget though, while you’re out enjoying Creswell’s backyard, to please remember the importance of wearing sunscreen.
Why It’s Important to Wear Sunscreen
First off, wear sunscreen, please. Moreover, do so consistently. SPF 30 or higher, water and/or sweat resistant for swimming or vigorous physical activity. Also, a hat. And long sleeves if it is not too hot. And sunglasses. Not at all kidding here.
Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours. No whining.
But why, you ask? What about that bronzed sun-kissed skin tone you were looking forward to all winter?
The short answer is that skin damage is cumulative and does not repair nearly as well as we once thought. Most of us have or will have an estimated 80 to 90% of our lifetime skin damage, mostly from sun exposure, before we are 21.
Did you read that? 80 to 90% of our lifetime skin damage is damaged before we are 21.
This is because we think we are indestructible until about that age, and also because most of us spend more time in our youth at lakes, parks, beaches, etc. before we spend the rest of existence in an office staring at a computer somewhere.
So, What Does Cumulative Sun Damage Mean?
It all adds up, that time in the sun. It means to be kind to your 45-year-old self if you are 21 because that beautiful tan today means more crow’s feet, wrinkles, and decreased skin elasticity in the future.
And oh, by the way, increased the risk for skin cancer.
Although much more common in fair-skinned people, skin cancers-particularly melanoma-can show up at any age and with any skin type. Family history plays a role so if you have a mom, dad, brother or sister with a history of melanoma specifically, you should have an annual skin survey with a dermatologist or family practitioner knowledgeable about skin conditions.
Melanoma, while uncommon, is a fast-growing type of skin cancer that can metastasize elsewhere in the body quickly, even when the primary site is relatively small and innocent in appearance.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Although Melanoma is the most concerning, more common is Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) of the skin-a slower growing type of skin cancer that exists on a continuum from premalignant dry red, scaly plaques called actinic keratosis; an intermediate phase known as Bowen’s disease; and formal skin cancer.
SCC is almost always related to radiation (sun) exposure and tends to come later in life. Treatment usually happens in a couple of ways like:
- Removal or,
- Destruction with liquid nitrogen or topical chemicals depending on how advanced it is.
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
The final type of skin cancer of frequent clinical significance is Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) and is also related to radiation damage from the sun or other sources. It tends to have shiny rounded margins, but this is not always the case.
The good news with this type is that it almost never goes elsewhere in the body. Its primary threat is that it frequently comes back unless excised with wide margins because it also has more local site involvement than is typically visible to the clinician. BCC tends to be more of a cosmetic issue, cropping up frequently on the face, nose, and ears.
Enjoy the Sun, and do it Wearing Sunscreen
Did you know that regular (and daily too) use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen can reduce risk of developing melanoma by 50 percent, according to the American Cancer Society?
So enjoy the summer, but forego the tan. Instead, treat your skin to a good daily moisturizer and application of SPF 30+ sunscreen. That way, your skin has a better chance to continue looking beautiful and doing its job for decades to come.