Skin cancer rates across the globe continue to increase dramatically, particularly in the past few decades. At this point in time, melanoma kills one person every hour. Non-melanoma skin cancers, like basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma, are much more common than melanoma, and cause a significant amount of morbidity. The most important things to know to protect yourself from skin cancer are the following:
- Wear a broad spectrum sunscreen (one that blocks both UVA and UVB), at least SPF 30. Dr. Ecker recommends that you apply if you are going to be in the sun for 20 minutes or longer at a time. Currently, the government is working on a new sunscreen protection rating system that incorporates UVA into the rating system. You may be surprised to find that the current SPF rating system is only a measure of UVB protection. Both UVA and UVB can cause skin cancer, so it is important to protect yourself from both of these rays. UVA, a longer wavelength of radiation, penetrates windows, so even driving in your car you are exposed to these rays. Studies have shown that we do not apply frequently enough (reapply every couple of hours) and we do not apply a thick enough layer on the skin for adequate protection to actually get the protection that the sunscreen is rated for.
- Wear sun-protective clothing. There are excellent sun-protective garments available now, which provide a high degree of SPF. But just wearing long sleeved clothing and a broad-brimmed hat go a long way as well.
- Your risk of developing skin cancer is dependent on your lifetime cumulative sun exposure. The more sun you get, the more risk you have. It is never too late to start protecting yourself from harmful rays.
- Avoid sun tanning booths. The sun tanning industry has become very crafty lately in touting the benefits of vitamin D and combating depression in trying to impress upon the public that tanning is actually a health benefit. While it is very important to have adequate vitamin D levels to maintain bone health and potentially even decrease your risk of skin cancer, the benefit of keeping your vitamin D levels up by tanning is quickly outweighed by your increased risk of skin cancer. The best studies show that there is no difference in maintaining healthy vitamin D levels by oral vitamin supplementation versus the sun or tanning. So if you want to keep healthy vitamin D levels, do so by taking adequate vitamin D orally, not by tanning.
One of the things Dr. Ecker often counsels acne patients on is the overuse of harsh over-the-counter (OTC) acne treatments. Many OTC acne treatments contain harsh acids such as benzyl peroxide and salicylic acid. While they can be helpful in moderate strengths and with tempered frequency, the overuse of them can often make acne worse, dry out the skin, cause irritation, and ultimately worsen overall complexion. Dr. Ecker will usually recommend an appropriate treatment, either prescription or OTC, and ask that these harsher OTC treatments be limited to use not more than once a day.
If you've ever had a wart, you know what a nuisance they can be. Although they are benign and resolve spontaneously with time, we all know they can persist indefinitely, get larger, and spread. They are contagious, but in reality we all probably come into contact with the virus (HPV strains) all of the time. There are those of us that are very susceptible to the virus and contract it easily, and those who do not. The key to treating warts is persistence. We usually treat warts every 2-3 weeks until they are gone. If they are not taken care of in this way, they often have a chance to re-grow to their original size, sometimes larger. Most of our first-line treatments are destructive in nature. But we also have immunotherapy for certain locations and kinds of warts. This basically consists of an injection into the largest wart or warts, inciting your own immune system to take over and kill the virus causing the warts.