Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), and one local dermatologist is warning people to be wary of the sun in the warmer months.
Lisa Brown, physician assistant at Skin & Vein Center, said skin cancers are appearing in younger and younger people.
Basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma, which are caused by
exposure to the sun, are being found in people in their early 40s when it used to only be prevalent in people age 60 and up. Rates for both cancers have increased substantially since the ’70s, according to the AAD.
Basal cell carcinoma increased by 145 percent between 1976 and 1984, and between 2000 and 2010.
“So many people are getting so much sun exposure and tanning bed use so you’re seeing a lot of basal cells at an earlier age,” she said. This type is normally non-deadly and won’t metastasize if caught early.
If melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer that can spread to other parts of the body, is not caught “extremely early,” it can be fatal. Brown has seen melanoma in someone in her 30s.
“They’re both caused by the sun and both caused by tanning. Melanoma has a genetic link, too,” Brown said, adding that melanoma will also appear in places where sun can’t reach. This type of skin cancer has tripled in American adults since the 1970s, according to the National Cancer Institute.
She attributed the increased risk of skin cancer to the popularity of tanning beds in the ’80s and ’90s and the changing ozone layer.
“The biggest thing I tell people is stop the tanning bed use,” she said. Some countries have banned tanning beds or placed age restrictions on them. “I think this should be on billboards — tanning beds cause cancer.”
She anticipates that America will eventually have stricter laws or outright ban on tanning beds.
Approximately one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and around 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed daily, according to the AAD. Nearly 20 Americans die from melanoma every day.
Staying out of the sun and using sunscreen is the best way to protect against skin cancer. Brown recommends mineral-based sunscreens with an SPF of 30 or higher.
Mineral sunscreens are becoming more popular, giving people another option besides chemical sunscreens. Mineral-based products contain titanium and zinc or other metals, and are more effective than chemical sunscreens. These create a physical barrier that reflects the sun off the skin.
The Federal Drug Administration has deemed these ingredients safe.
The biggest misconception is people who think their face is protected because their moisturizer contains SPF.
“It only lasts 90 minutes. If you look on the back of the bottle, some say 80, some say 90. So after 90 minutes, it’s like having nothing on your skin. Reapply every 90 minutes,” she said.
For sensitive skin, she recommends an SPF mineral powder from Peter Thomas Roth that you apply on your face. Neutrogena and Aveeno are two sunscreen brands she recommends.
“Something dermatologist recommended,” Brown said. “The biggest thing is ‘reapply.’”
Some of the chemicals in other sunscreens have come under scrutiny for potentially harming the environment and disrupting the body’s normal hormone functions. Sunscreen with oxybenzone was banned in Hawaii after research found it was partially responsible for damaging coral reefs. It’s also a potential endocrine disruptor and can lower testosterone in adolescent boys, according to the Environmental Working Group, a watchdog organization for sunscreens.
Environmental Working Group recommended sunscreens
• Neutrogena’s Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50, Sheer Zinc Dry-Touch Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30 and 50
• Coppertone’s Defend & Care Face Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30, Pure 7 Simple Baby Sunscreen Lotion for babies, faces, kids and adults, all SPF 50
• Clinque’s Mineral Sunscreen Fluid for Face, SPF 50
• Burt’s Bees Baby Nourishing Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30
• Beautycounter’s Countersun Mineral Sunscreen lotion and stick, both SOF 30
• Babyganics Mineral Sunscreen stick, SPF 50
• Aveeno’s Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Sunscreen face Stick, SPF 50, Zinc Oxide Sunscreen Lotion for babies, kids and adults, ranging in SPFs, Positively Mineral Sensitive Skin Sunscreen
Note: these are only a few of the approved sunscreens. For the full list, go to ewg.org/sunscreen.