Does Sunscreen Prevent Skin Cancer?
You bet it does! And the best sunscreen to prevent skin cancer is the one you decide to use every day. As a skin cancer fighter, I try to do my part and advocate for sunscreen use as soon as the spring clothes come out.
I have battled giant spots of skin cancer on my left shoulder, and several spots on my face, including one that required extensive plastic surgery after it was removed.
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Your Struggle With Skin Cancer Begins in Childhood
“Suffering one or more blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing potentially-deadly melanoma later in life.” (1.)
When I was a kid, sunscreen wasn’t a “thing.” My aunts all used baby oil to grease up and lay out. My brother and I might get a few dabs of that thick, pasty zinc oxide on our noses and tops of shoulders, but that was it.
Now that my skincare is in my hands, I am vigilant about sunscreen application. Even so, my numerous sunburns as a kid caught up with me in the form of squamous and basal cell cancers.
Three of my many bouts of skin cancer required Mohs surgery, which scrapes away layers of skin in the affected areas until no more cancer cells remain. It can go pretty deep, and I needed a skin graft from my forehead to fill the dent it made in my left nostril.
What this means for you and your children: I don’t say this stuff to gross you out, I say it to urge you to keep your children (and yourself) protected from the sun now. Don’t ever let your children be sunburned. They’ll be so grateful when they’re older and don’t need skin grafts.
Five Very Important Tips:
- Watch your left side. A little-known fact about skin cancer is that it frequently occurs on the left side. Being in your car does not protect you from the sun. Two of my three big skin cancer surgeries were on my left side. Buckle up, and wear your sunscreen!
- Most people don’t use enough sunscreen. It takes a full shot glass to cover an adult for the most optimal sun protection. For little ones, it will take less — but slather them up good. It shouldn’t be a quick process.
- Put sunscreen on 30 MINUTES BEFORE GOING OUTSIDE! I cringe when I see parents quickly spraying their kids on the go as they show up at the pool. Not cool.
- Use at least SPF 30 sunscreen. There is some debate about whether higher SPFs are necessary, but at least use 30. I personally use this SPF 45 for my whole body and this EltaMD SPF 46 for my face.
- Always choose “full spectrum UVA plus UVB protection”. Read labels carefully, and make sure it says both UVA and UVB protection.
Two Types of Sunscreen
There are two types of sunscreen. One is a physical sun blocking lotion that’s usually mineral-based and free of chemicals. These sunblocks sit on top of the skin and deflect the sun’s harmful rays. They are usually thick and don’t rub in as well, but can offer great protection.
The second (most used) type of sunscreen absorbs into your skin when you apply it. These are chemical based and absorb the sun’s harmful rays to prevent damage to the skin. This type of lotion absorbs better, is lighter, and can be worn under makeup.
Both types can protect from sun damage and sunburn. No matter what your preferences, get what works for you and use it daily — especially when spending time in the car, near windows, or outdoors. Sunscreen can only prevent skin cancer if you use it.
Sunscreen Buying Guide
Best Sunscreen for Sensitive or Acne-Prone Skin and Kids
EltaMd UV Clear Broad Spectrum SPF 46 is a winner with dermatologists, and it’s my personal favorite. The formula is extremely smooth, rubs in completely, great for sensitive skin, won’t cause break-outs, and it wears wonderfully under makeup. It’s a bit more pricey, but I only use it for my face.
Sun Bum Original Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion gets rave reviews for its gentle formula and amazing smell. It’s vegan, hypoallergenic, good for kids and sensitive skin. It comes in a variety of sizes and SPF formulas depending on your needs.
Mineral Chemical-Free Formulas
Supergoop! Skin Soothing Mineral Sunscreen with Olive Polyphenols SPF 40 is a favorite with parents and people with skin conditions such as rosacea. Its light and soothing formula doesn’t cause irritation or break-outs, and parents like that it’s gentle and doesn’t sting the eyes.
Bare Republic Mineral Face Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 gets high marks from its customers with sensitive skin and conditions such as rosacea. It’s light enough to wear under makeup, and gets great reviews for its non-greasy formula.
Best Sunscreen Oily Skin
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen, Broad Spectrum SPF 45 is a winner in the non-greasy and non pore-clogging category. This is my personal choice for all over protection because of its dry feel. If you’re not a fan of the greasy feel of most sunscreens, you’ll love this one!
Supergoop! Everyday Sunscreen with Cellular Response Technology SPF 50 provides full-spectrum protection in a lightweight formula that can be worn under makeup and doesn’t cause clogged pores or shine. It gets raves for being moisturizing while not aggravating oily skin.
Mineral Chemical-Free Formulas
Coola Suncare Mineral Face SPF 30 Sunscreen Matte Tint is excellent for oily and sensitive skin. Be aware that it is lightly tinted but it blends with all tones and is great with any skin type. Reviewers love that it can be worn under makeup (even with oily skin) and provides a polished matte finish for your face.
Supergoop! Skin Soothing Mineral Sunscreen with Olive Polyphenols SPF 40 is non-greasy, doesn’t cause break-outs, and it’s a favorite with all skin types. Fans love that you can wear it daily under makeup, it’s very gentle around the eyes, and it offers great sun protection for fair skin.
Best Sport Sunscreens
EltaMD UV Sport Broad-Spectrum SPF 50 sunscreen has great staying power. It gets rave reviews from water fans and athletes for full protection during the summer. It’s a heavier formula and isn’t as sheer as daily-wear lotions, but that’s typical for most sport sunscreens.
SPF Rx SPF 50 Sport Lotion provides up to 80 minutes of water resistance. It’s a high performance formula with rave reviews from lifeguards and others who spend most of the summer outdoors. The great thing about this sunscreen is the large bottle with the pump. Provides a great price value for large families and those who use lots of sunscreen daily.
Mineral Chemical-Free Formulas
Zealios Water Resistant Zinc Oxide Sunscreen SPF 45 gets top marks from athletes and water-sport lovers. It has a water-resistance rating of 80 minutes and fans love that it goes on clear and dry and won’t run in your eyes.
TotLogic Natural Sunscreen SPF 30 is rated for 80 minutes of water resistance, is tear-free, natural, and great for the whole family. Its thick formula has lots of staying power and gets of kudos for ultra sun protection when you’re outdoors all day.
Final Skin Cancer Tips
The best sunscreen to prevent skin cancer, as they say, is the one you’ll use every day. Finding a sunscreen that works for you and that you’ll use on a regular basis is the key to getting safe sun and warding off the dangers of skin cancer.
If you have concerns about your skin, see your doctor right away. Most skin cancer is curable if caught and taken care of early.
Signs of skin cancer include:
- Changes in the color, size, or shape of existing moles.
- Any new bumps, sores, or lesions that do not go away.
- Itchy spots that scab over, go away, and then come back (as in my case).
Always visit your dermatologist once a year, and get a thorough skin check. Pay close attention to the scalp, ears, left side of the body, toes, and places where your clothes cover your skin. No area is off limits to melanoma.
(1.) For more about the dangers of childhood sunburns, click this link for skincancer.org.
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