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: Embrace the Pale: Messages About Sun Damage Need to be More than Skin Deep

Embrace the Pale: Messages About Sun Damage Need to be More than Skin Deep

Outreach Relations Manager

As a fair redhead, I learned at a young age that I'm never going to be tan regardless of how "in style" it is to be golden brown. In my teens, I decided the best thing to do was embrace my pale skin and lather on the sunscreen to protect myself. Yes, I own bottles that say SPF 100+ and wear them religiously. I even have a daily regimen that includes sunscreen, and so should you!

Although most of the country is still in the middle of winter, it's a new year, and time for a new attitude about your health--and that includes your attitude about the sun. A recent report by the University of Miami found that despite boasting the moniker the "Sunshine State," Florida has more tanning beds than CVS pharmacies or McDonald's restaurants. And a new study by the Irish Cancer Society found that many young people think tanned skin looks healthier than pale skin and that tanning beds help build a "safe base tan." Clearly, what these people don't know is that people who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent.

Despite years of campaigns aimed at sun safety, it seems that the message just isn't getting through to teenagers, who often think they are invincible and that cancer of any kind happens to other people, but not them. That's why it's extra important to remind teens before they throw down a towel and stretch out next to the pool that many signs of aging come from skin damage received in your teens. In a culture obsessed with youth, this is an important fact of which young girls stretching out in tanning booths are apparently unaware.

A Quick Breakdown About Cancer that Could Save Your Life

But beyond the negative impact sun has your appearance, there's an even more important reason to start slathering on sunscreen. Yup, you guessed it. The most important reason to start a sunscreen regimen early--and then stick to it--is skin cancer. If there is one message that public health advocates and health communicators need to force through all the noise it's this: that sunburn and even that golden bronze tan is sun damage, and sun damage leads to skin cancer.

The most common and easily treatable form of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma. Basal cells carcinomas are abnormal, uncontrolled growths that arise in the skin's basal cells, which line the deepest layer of your skin. This form is the least likely to spread. However, if left unchecked, basal cell carcinoma will continue to grow and can get quite unsightly. Basal cell carcinoma is usually identified and surgically removed by a dermatologist.

Then there is squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). SCC is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells arising in the squamous cells, which are made up of the upper-most layers of your skin. They most often occur on the nose, forehead, ears, lower lip, hands, and other areas commonly exposed to the sun. If found early, SCC is easily treatable. However, if left to grow, SCC can grow deep into the lower layers of your skin, and removing it can result in disfigurement. More to the point, if left to grow, some SCCs have also been known to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

Last but not least--and the most feared--is melanoma. Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer. Melanoma occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells triggers a mutation that leads to rapidly multiplying skin cancer. Melanomas are malignant tumors that can metastasize all over the body and often resemble moles. So if you have moles, make sure you are checking them regularly for changes in size and color. Changes in size and color can occur when the cells turn cancerous.

Hopefully, you will rethink your plans to lay out by the pool with minimal SPF. The importance of a daily sunscreen regimen can't be stressed enough. Not only is it important for your prolonged youth and beauty, but most importantly, it is essential for your health!

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The Healthy(ist) blog is a platform to share, learn about, and debate topics related to public and social health, scientific research, health communications, and behavior change.
We invite and encourage anyone interested in current public health and health communication trends and issues to join MMG's contributing bloggers in adding their voice to the ongoing discussion about how we can advance health, together.

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