SPF, Sunscreen, and Skin Cancer

SPF, Sunscreen, and Skin Cancer

It’s summer and it’s time to have some fun in the sun. Pero first, let’s talk about skin protection!

In 2016, the American Cancer Society reported that cancer was the leading cause of death in Hispanics. Skin cancer, specifically, is highly prevalent in the U.S. and outnumbers all other cancers combined, with Hispanics being the highest group besides non-Hispanic whites, to die from melanoma. Skin cancer is often caused by exposure to UV light that damages the skin’s DNA, making it unable to control skin cell growth and consequently leading to cancer. To protect yourself against skin cancer, dermatologists recommend daily use of sunscreen, whether you are outside or indoors.

Studies overwhelmingly suggest that Hispanics do not believe they are at risk for skin cancer.

Due to being less pigmented, lighter skin tones are more likely to be damaged by the sun and develop skin cancer. However, all skin tones can be affected. Consequently, there have been countless studies concerning sun exposure and sun-protective behavior awareness in communities of color. According to the National Cancer Institute: Cancer Trends Progress Report, statistics show that Hispanics do not believe they are at risk for skin cancer, with only 24.7% of Hispanic adults in the U.S. reporting they always or most of the time protect themselves from the sun with SPF 15 or higher. One study even found that white Hispanics didn’t understand their high skin cancer risk compared to non-Hispanic whites, which shows that not wearing sunscreen can be a cultural issue. 

Overall, data suggests that Hispanics rarely perform self-skin exams and rarely go to the doctor for skin exams.

This may lead to a late-diagnosis of serious skin conditions and may contribute to why Hispanics have a lower survival rate for melanoma compared to non-Hispanic whites. This is especially alarming considering working outside and race/ethnicity has always been coupled in the U.S., with many Hispanics not being afforded the opportunity to work indoors and out of the sun. When we also consider the lack of adequate healthcare due to low insurance coverage and very few Hispanic doctors (6%) serving this community, the risk, severity and gravity of skin cancer exacerbates.

However, here’s some information on what to look for in sunscreens to protect yourself from skin cancer.

When considering what type of sunscreen to buy, it's crucial to understand how protective sunscreen is, especially when it comes to SPF. SPF or Sun Protection Factor, measures how much solar energy (UV radiation) is required to produce a sunburn on protected skin, relative to the amount of solar energy required to produce a sunburn on unprotected skin. 

Think of it as a fraction: sunburn radiation dose with sunscreen over sunburn radiation dose without sunscreen. The higher the SPF number, the more protection you have against sunburning and eventually developing cancer. The time of day can affect the type of SPF needed since the time it takes for solar energy exposure depends on the sun’s intensity, so it’s usually most intense at midday.

SPF = sunburn radiation dose with sunscreen / sunburn radiation dose without sunscreen

SPF ranges widely.

While SPF under 15 protects against sunburn, it does not protect against skin cancer, so get a sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 15. However, it’s typically best to get a sunscreen with a higher SPF since most people do not apply enough sunscreen. Higher SPF compensates for this. Additionally, the more sunscreen that is applied, the less solar radiation will be absorbed. One last tip: make sure to get a sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays because both can be harmful.




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