Bright Ideas for Sun Protection

Tips for Skin Cancer

Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is not the only factor to consider when protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. “We all know SPF is important, but it extends beyond that,” said Dr. Ida Orengo, professor of dermatology and director of the Mohs/Dermatologic Surgery Unit at Baylor College of Medicine. “Diet, clothing and familiarity with your skin type all factor into sun protection.”

DIET

Diet can play a role in preventing skin cancer, Orengo said. The following items have been proven to reduce the growth of malignant cells and skin tumors:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Green tea
  • Resveratrol (an ingredient in red wine)

“We have also conducted a study that proved low-fat diets play a role in preventing skin cancer,” she said.
For those looking to increase their skin’s threshold for sunburn, Heliocare® sun pills can help and, according to Orengo, a recent study showed that nicotinamide, a type of B vitamin, also may reduce the number of skin cancers one gets.

She recommends vitamin D supplements for people who are experts at avoiding the sun.

“It’s important to remember that we do need sun,” she said. “When sun hits the skin it transforms vitamin D into its active form. We need about 10 to 15 minutes of daily sun exposure for proper vitamin D levels. Vitamin D supports healthy brain, heart and immune system function.”

Your physician should be consulted before changing your diet or taking supplements. Orengo warns that diet alone cannot prevent or cure skin cancers, only help aid in the process.

CLOTHING

For long days out in the sun you’ll need more than sunscreen. Orengo suggested tossing out the baseball caps with ventilation holes and opting for a hat with no holes and at least a three-inch brim.

“Consider buying lightweight clothing that properly covers and protects your body from the sun’s rays,” she said. “Many outdoor stores now sell sun-protective clothing. There also are products that will add SPF to your own clothing.”

TYPES OF SKIN

Another tip to protecting your skin is to know your own skin type, said Orengo. The Fitzpatrick scale is a numerical classification system that recognizes how varying types of skin respond to sun exposure. Orengo said dermatologists are familiar with the scale but individuals should also take time to understand their own risk.

  • Type 1: Burn all the time
  • Type 2: Burn every time, then turns into a light tan
  • Type 3: Burn but get a good tan
  • Type 4: Sometimes burn, always tans
  • Type 5: Rarely burns, always tans
  • Type 6: Never burns, always tans

“Types 1, 2 and 3 are more likely to get skin cancer,” she said. “Types 4, 5 and 6 can get skin cancer, but it’s less likely. They should still protect themselves from the sun.”

For some types of skin, sunblock may work better than sunscreen because it physically blocks ultraviolet radiation from penetrating the skin. This is especially true for people who have sensitive skin, Orengo said.
Regardless of your skin type, Orengo said skin health should be everyone’s concern and following these tips, as well as seeing your doctor regularly for skin checks, is a good way to prevent skin cancers.

—Julia Parsons, courtesy of Baylor College of Medicine

(originally appeared in our July/August 2015 of What Doctors Know)

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