Skin Cancer - Determining Your Risk and Protecting Your Skin

Written by Leanna Serras

Over a million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed each year in America. The most serious form of skin cancer is melanoma and accounts for over 68,000 cases each year. Things like complexion, family history, and sun exposure can affect the chances a person may have to develop skin cancer. While certain risks are unavoidable, like genetics, almost all skin cancer is related some how to sun exposure. Using the right cosmetics can be a vital part of getting, and maintaining, healthy skin.


Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer; accounting for more than one half of all cancer diagnoses in the United States. There are two forms of skin cancer: non-melanoma, the most common form, and melanoma, least common but more deadly form of skin cancer. Non-melanoma, or basal/squamous cell, skin cancer usually forms on sun exposed parts of the human body; including face, arms, neck, and back of hands. It tends to stay localized and can be treated effectively. Melanoma refers to the cancer that starts in the melanocytes, or pigment cells. These cells produce melanin, the substance that protects the skin from the dangerous effects of sunlight. If detected in early stages melanoma is almost always curable, however melanoma does account for the majority of skin cancer deaths.


Certain factors can effect the chances a person may have to develop both forms of skin cancer. Some genetic factors that may increase a persons chances include: fair complexion, family history of skin cancer, and tendency to freckle or burn easily. Some factors are environmentally related, these include things such as: prolonged sun exposure at any age, severe or frequent sunburns as a child, and/or exposure to coal tar, radium, arsenic or other toxic materials. Other factors include: exposure to certain strains of human papilloma virus, previous skin cancer history, receiving organ transplants on immunosuppressant drugs, and a history of non healing wounds or burns.


Excessive exposure to the sun's harmful rays early in life can lead to an accelerated aging process and appearance of the skin; this is known as photoaging. A person may look years older than their actual age due to the severity of their skin damage. Their skin may appear dry, leathery, deeply wrinkled, freckled and/or discolored. Some cosmetics and less abrasive forms of treatment are out there to reduce the appearance of photoaging; however some cases may require more invasive procedures including dermabrasion, chemical peels, and laser skin resurfacing.


There are several ways which a person may decrease their chances of developing skin cancer. Most preventative measures are related to avoiding sun exposure. Make sure to apply a thick layer of sunscreen year round. Ultra violet rays are present even during the winter months, when the sun may appear not to be. In addition to traditional sunscreen and sun block, some cosmetics provide their own sun screening mechanisms for the face, while being gentle on the complexion. When dealing with prolonged exposure to sunlight all areas of your body should be covered with long sleeves, shirts with collars, socks, long pants, and hats, preferably those with large rims. Fabric with tight weaves allow less UV rays through, and keep the skin safer from their harmful effects. Other things that can be done to avoid skin cancer involve being aware of the presence of toxic materials such as pitch, tar coal, arsenic, and radium and avoiding them at all costs.