Skin Cancer Prevention

When it comes to sun protection, the Aussies say, “Slip, slap, slop.”

SLIP on a shirt (long sleeves).
SLAP on a hat (broad-brimmed).
SLOP on sunscreen (thick).

Great advice for skin cancer prevention.

Most of us love the outdoors, but our skin hates the High Desert sun. The longer wavelengths (known as UVA… think “A” for aging) penetrate and damage deeper structures like elastic fibers and collagen, as well as pigment cells (melanocytes), where melanoma starts.

Such damage causes premature aging with wrinkles, fine lines, rough leathery texture and mottled discoloration, as well as skin cancers. (So don’t believe the tanning salons’ claim that UVA is safe!) The shorter wavelengths (UVB… think “B” for burning) cause sunburns, cataracts and contribute to premature aging of the skin. And UVB rays definitely cause skin cancers!

Sunlight also suppresses your skin’s immune system. Skin cancer results from a one-two punch: The first “hit” is nuclear damage from UV radiation, adding up over decades. The second “hit” is ongoing, daily UV suppression of your skin’s immune system. Sunlight is (ultraviolet) radiation! Exposure to UV radiation adds up causing increasing, cumulative skin damage.

Here are some more tips to stay sun-safe:


Time your exposure to avoid the danger zone of 10 am to 4 pm. Enjoy your outdoor activities in the mornings or evenings. This will limit your exposure to UVB rays, which are five to ten times stronger in the middle of the day.


Avoid direct sunlight on your skin and minimize exposure of your skin to sunlight. UVA rays are present and potent at all times of the day and year. And UVA penetrates window glass, clouds, mist and even fog! Bright, shiny surfaces, like snow, water, and concrete, will reflect up to 95% of solar rays back at you.

That essentially doubles the dose of your radiation exposure. The best protection is complete avoidance, so try to stay undercover in the middle of the day. Outdoor shade offers only some protection. 50% shade cover gives only about SPF2 protection and 90% shade cover gives only about SPF10.

When there is enough light energy bouncing around to let you see, skin damage can occur. Umbrellas, gazebos and covered bleachers at outdoor events can help, but will only give you partial protection.


Next to complete avoidance, proper clothing and sunglasses are most protective. Long sleeves and long pants made with a tight-woven, synthetic fabric (with a UPF rating, Ultraviolet Protection Factor) is the best protection. Look for low contents (30%) of cotton, linen, and other loose fabrics.

The best colors are black, dark blue, green, beige, and white. If clothing stretches out, sticks to skin, gets wet, or wears out after use and laundering, this will lower the UPF and increase your UV radiation exposure. Above all, make a habit of wearing long sleeves and a hat with a broad brim, 4 inches or wider.

Sunday Afternoons sells high-quality, cost effective hats and clothing. Cabela’s, Columbia, Ex Officio, Sportif, Solumbra, and Coolibar are other sources. Cocoons and Fitovers are sunsafe eyewear, some of which fit over spectacles.


Caveat emptor: let the buyer beware! Many products advertise “broad spectrum UVA/UVB coverage,” but in fact may only protect against UVB and a fraction of UVA (the FDA is moving slowly toward better labeling requirements).

Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide physically reflect (like a mirror) both UVB and UVA rays. The only chemical blockers that absorb well into the long UVA range are Mexoryl and Avobenzone (Parsol 1789). These work by absorbing rays instead of reflecting them. People with sensitive skin can become sensitized to chemical blockers.

Overall, physical blockers are a better choice. Look for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, 6% or higher on the label. When a sunscreen is tested to set the SPF (Sun Protection Factor), the application is thick.

So if you apply an SPF30 sunscreen too thinly, it may only give you SPF4 protection! By the way, SPF numbers are based on how long they protect skin from burning (UVB rays), not aging (UVA rays). An average-sized adult in a bathing suit will require about 1 ounce (about 2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to cover their skin. With reapplication every one to two hours, each person can go through an entire 4-ounce bottle in a day at the beach!

Look for an SPF of at least 30 for maximal protection from skin cancer and premature aging. And it is very important that you apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before sun exposure, to allow for absorption into the skin.

The smartest move for optimal year-round protection is to apply sunscreen every morning to your sun-exposed skin (face, ears, “V” of chest, neck and hands).

Think of it as an essential consumable (like toothpaste) and use it regularly to keep your skin healthy. Also make a habit of using lip sunblock, every day, all year. Acne-prone and hairy individuals may prefer gel or spray sunscreens.

Elta MD makes the best spray product with zinc oxide. The alcohol base may sting a bit when first applied, but gels and sprays are better for acne prone individuals. Lotions and creams are better for folks with dry or sensitive skin.

Our favorites Contain Zinc Oxide and Titanium Oxide:

  • Vanicream SPF 60 (for adults, very moisturizing)
  • Blue Lizard SPF 30+ (for sensitive skin, children, and aggressive protection in wet or sweaty conditions-but this one makes most adults look “ghostly white.”)
  • Ella MD is our favorite spray, and it is the only spray we know of with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide
  • Tizo
  • CeraVe

If you commit to the effort and expense of using sunscreen be sure to choose a good one with effective broad spectrum protection, rather than an inferior product that may give you a false sense of security, exposing your family’s skin to heavy UVA exposure!


There has been a lot of buzz about this topic. Vitamin D is good for us, and we can get plenty of it from dietary sources, and multivitamins.

Why choose sun exposure, which causes cancer, when we get plenty from dietary sources without the cancer risk? Much research in this area is sponsored by the tanning industry, which was a $5 billion/year business over the last decade in our country (we only spent about $1.5 billion per year to fight skin cancer.)

We dermatologists work hard to stop tanning because we know that it causes cancer and we have your best interests at heart. Both the Institute of Medicine and the USDA dietary guidelines recommend a daily supplemental dose of 800 to 1000 IU for adults.

At Peters Dermatology, we’re all about prevention, so we’ve stocked up to carry a line of products we stand behind to make it easy for you. Ask us to show you our Sunday Afternoons Hats, Skin Ceuticals , Elta MD Sunscreens , Vanicream Sunscreen, TIZO LiptTECT SPF 45 lip protection and Jane Iredale Cosmetics.

Schedule your skin cancer screening today: 541-323-7546

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