Taking good care of your skin not only helps you look younger and healthier; it can also protect you from certain skin cancers. While proper skin care won't necessarily prevent skin cancers such as melanoma or basal cell carcinoma, it does do a lot to reduce risk, notes oncologist Petra Rietschel, MD. If you are particularly concerned about skin cancer, you might consider genetic testing to determine your risk.
Dealing with the Sun
Skin cancers occur when the DNA in a cell is damaged and the cells begin to grow in an uncontrolled fashion. What triggers the DNA damage isn't clear; there is evidence that exposure to ultraviolet light often causes damage that leads to the development of skin cancers including melanoma. Protecting your skin from exposure to UV light, including the rays from the sun, is one way to ward off cancer and to keep your skin youthful longer.
The easiest way to protect your skin from sun exposure is to avoid going outside during daylight hours. Since avoiding the outdoors when the sun is shining isn't always possible, it's best to at least aim to stay inside between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm, when the sun is at its strongest.
Wear sunscreen everyday, even on days when the sun is nowhere to be seen. You want to a use a broad spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 30. Broad spectrum means it blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Reapply the sunscreen often throughout the day, especially if you are outside or swimming.
Your clothing can also provide some protection against sunlight. Dark, tightly woven clothing offers a higher level of protection than loosely knit light colored clothing. Some brands of clothing are produced with a special built-in ultraviolet protection factor (UPF).
A hat with a wide brim can protect the skin on your face. Ideally, the brim will go around the entire head, not just the front. Straw hats don't offer as much protection as fabric hats.
You'll also want to protect your eyes to reduce the risk of cancer. Melanoma can develop in the eyes, though it is very rare. Sunglasses that have UV protection will not only shield the eyes, they'll also protect the skin in the eye area.
Regular Check Ups
Another part of a skin care routine should be regular skin check ups. Seeing a dermatologist each year for a mole check is a good idea. It's also up to you to keep an eye on your skin. If you see anything strange or notice that something's changed, talk to a doctor. Keeping an eye on your skin is especially important if you have a history of skin cancer or a family history of cancer.
If you do have a family history of skin cancer, you might also consider genetic testing. Genetic testing isn't something to approach lightly. Petra Rietschel MD notes that many doctors don't recommend it, as the results don't necessarily tell a person what his or her risk is.