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Dr. Michaels' Blog

How Can I Avoid Skin Cancer?

The most common cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. UV radiation is found in sunlight, tanning booths and even, in low doses, fluorescent light. Using an appropriate sunscreen and wearing protective clothing such as hats and long-sleeved shirts can reduce your exposure to UV light. And tanning booths? Avoid them like the plague!

Limiting your time in the sun, even in winter, will also reduce your exposure to harmful rays. UV light travels easily through clouds. Don’t use sunscreen as an excuse to bake in the sun and apply it every two hours.

Interestingly, not everyone has the same susceptibility to UV light. The more reactive your skin is to UV light, the more dangerous it is for you. The Fitzpatrick Scale is a measure of your skin’s reactivity to UV. The most sensitive are Fitzpatrick 1’s, people whose skin only burns and never tans. 1’s are often redheads with blue eyes and very fair skin. They are the most likely to develop skin cancer. Fitzpatrick 2’s burn and then tan after UV. They are still considered sensitive to UV and are generally light skinned. Fitzpatrick 3‘s are often of Mediterranean decent and usually don’t burn. Fitzpatrick 4’s rarely burn, and Fitzpatrick 5’s never burn. Although it’s rare, even 4’s and 5’s can get skin cancer. Bob Marley died of melanoma.

The incidence of skin cancer is increasing, possibly linked to damage of the Earth’s protective ozone layer. This increase in global UV irradiation is also linked to cataract formation. Hopefully the ban on CFC aerosol agents will help reverse this trend.

But don’t forget about other factors that we know cause cancer: Smoking increases the risk of skin cancer. Radiation, therapeutic or accidental, causes skin cancer. Some toxic metals, like the arsenic present in some manufacturing processes, can cause cancer.

You can’t entirely eliminate exposure to UV radiation and other causes of skin cancer. But staying out of the sun, using sunscreen and not smoking will go a long way toward saving your skin.