Suntan leads to Skin Cancer

  • Published
  • By John Franklin
  • Brooke Army Medical Center
Getting summer tanned skin is not what it used to be.

Take it from me who is missing parts of my ear and nose due to achieving that "beautiful tan" when I was younger!

There are a lot of things, when you are young, that you really don't understand until you are older and wiser, like me. For example, a nice suntan seems neat at the time, but later in life you may develop a skin cancer that requires a long term relationship with your dermatologist.

This is one of life's lessons that many people don't realize, especially the young crowd. Skin cancer is a killer. Sorry, there is no waiver for ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Most cases of melanoma, the deadliest kind of skin cancer, are caused by exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun.

Here are a few lessons I have learned through the years and wished I'd listened to when I was younger:

Mothers, don't let your babies turn brown! The most vulnerable skin to UV radiation is the soft, smooth baby skin we so adore to touch. Apply sunscreen on your baby, lots of it, and keep them covered with long sleeve shirts and hats that protect their ears, nose, and neck. You love your child; make sure you help them with early prevention and protection. Lather them up with sunscreen.

Sunscreen is not like fine wines or aged bourbon; it does not get better with age! If your sunscreen is old, (last summer) it is no longer effective. Get rid of it and don't waste your time; you might as well be rubbing on cooking oil. Don't save on sunscreens. If you are going to "sun bathe" wear plenty of sunscreen and reapply frequently. Applying a little sunscreen is like wearing just a half of the life jacket!

Sunscreen works by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering sunlight as the sun hits your skin. It has chemicals that will help protect your skin from harmful effects of UV radiation. Different manufacturers use different chemicals so try different products to see which one you like best. Sunscreen is also deteriorated by heat, so sunscreens left in a hot car will deteriorate faster. The chemicals have a short shelf life so replenish them often.

The chemicals also have different degrees of effectiveness and these are referred to as the Sun Protection Factor (SPF). The higher the SPF the more protection against UV rays. Although manufacturers advertise their products as "water proof," it is wiser to reapply when you get out of the water or have been involved in an active activity.

For those who like to wear a shirt in the water, wear a dark colored, dense weave fabric with long sleeves to protect your skin. Some clothing now has an SPF rating on the tag, the higher the rating, the better. Wearing a hat with a brim all the way around is the next best defense. Wear sunglasses that also filter out UV rays. UV rays can damage your eyes and can promote cataracts. And stay out of the tanning beds! You can get more than a tan from them.

To sum it up, let's keep it simple. The sun's UV rays are not good for you. Protect yourself and wear protective clothing, and lots of sunscreen. Parents, take special care of your children, they have the most vulnerable skin and they need your help to protect them.

Now get out there and enjoy summer, just don't overdose on UV rays!

For more information, go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at

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