Skin Cancer Prevention Q&A with Dr. Kristen Aguirre
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lives. Researchers estimated that nonmelanoma skin cancer which includes basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) affects over 3 million Americans each year. BCC and SCC are highly curable if diagnosed and treated promptly.
Currently more than one million people are living with melanoma, and it is estimated that there will be close to 200,000 new cases of melanoma diagnosed in the U.S. in 2019. The majority of skin cancer deaths are due to melanoma. American Cancer Society Cancer Facts 2019 reports that almost 20 Americans die from melanoma every day.
Risk factors for all types of skin cancer include:
- Exposure to natural and artificial light are the primary risk factor for all types of skin cancer.
- Skin that burns easily
- blond or red hair
- a history of excessive sun exposure
- tanning bed use
- a weakened immune system and a history of skin cancer
Additional risk factors for melanoma include:
- A single blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence which can double your chance for melanoma
- More than 50 moles, atypical moles and large moles.
- A family history of melanoma
What are the best ways to prevent skin cancer?
The best ways to prevent skin cancer are to practice consistent sun protection measures and have a Board Certified Dermatologist examine your skin thoroughly on a yearly basis. Good sun protection measures include avoiding excessive sun exposure, spending time in the shade, wearing protective clothing such as UPF clothing and hats, and applying/re-applying broad spectrum sunscreen.
What is an actinic keratosis? What are the warning signs of skin cancer?
Actinic Keratoses are rough feeling pink spots that usually appear on sun exposed skin. They are a sign that your skin has had too much ultra-violet (UV) exposure. AK’s can progress to invasive skin cancer if not treated.
The warning signs of skin cancer are spots that do not heal, are growing, changing moles, or spots that bleed easily.
Will clothing protect against skin cancer?
Some clothing will protect against UV damage, which can lead to skin cancer. There are numerous brands of clothing that provide excellent protection from ultraviolet light. These clothing items are labeled with “UPF”, which stands for ultraviolet protection factor. Normal clothing that is light or has a loose weave does not reliably protect from the sun.
Which is the better? Physical or chemical sunscreen?
Both forms of sunscreen have their pros and cons.
Physical sunscreens, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide protect by reflecting ultraviolet light. They are not absorbed into the skin, but rather form a protective coating. Because of this they can feel less desirable when applied, although many manufacturers are producing better feeling products. I recommend physical blocks for children and those with sensitive skin.
Chemical sunscreens, such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate, bind with skin cells and convert UV radiation into heat. These sunscreens tend to feel more elegant and are easier to incorporate into make-ups and other skin care products. They are also less comedogenic (acne causing) than some of the physical blockers.
Ultimately the best sunscreen is the sunscreen you are willing to wear consistently.
What about mineral based makeup as sunscreen?
I do not recommend that make-up be used as the sole form of sun protection. The vast majority of people do not put on a thick enough layer to actually get the reported protection factor. I do, however, endorse applying a make-up with SPF over a reliable sunscreen. Many new sunscreens are available tinted which can be used in place of foundation.
I read that we should use both physical and chemical sunscreen for the best protection. Do you agree?
Many of the most effective sunscreens use a combination of ingredients to achieve the broadest protection.
What type of sunscreen is best if I have sensitive skin?
Mineral based sun screens are best for sensitive skin, containing zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide.
What type of sunscreen is best if I have acne?
Light weight formulations labeled “non-comedogenic”, “non-acnegenic”, or “Won’t clog pores” are best for acne.
What SPF do you recommend and why?
I recommend 30 SPF worn daily, and re-applied several times a day. This provides the ost effective and reliable protection. The SPF number above 30-50 is less important that the re-application of the protection.
What is Broad Spectrum sunscreen?
It is sunscreen that protects against both UVA radiation and UVB radiation
What are DNA repair enzymes? Do topical products with these enzymes help to prevent skin cancer?
DNA repair enzymes are molecules that scavenge within the DNA of our skin to repair DNA damage caused by ultraviolet light. They can help reduce the number of pre-cancers and cancers in our skin if applied regularly.
Do you recommend the use of retinoids to prevent skin cancer?
I recommend the use of retinoids for anti-aging purposes, and they additionally confer an anti-cancer benefit as well when applied regularly.
Do topical botanicals or dietary supplements work to prevent skin cancer?
Heliocare is an oral supplement which helps to reduce the UV damage incurred by our skin. It is derived from a fern from south America and is backed by numerous well controlled scientific studies. Taken daily it has been shown to reduce the risk for skin cancer. Niacinamide, one of the B vitamins, take 500mg twice daily has also shown to reduce the number of skin cancers that develop while taking the vitamin.
At Advanced Skincare MedCenter we advise everyone to have an annual full body checkup with a dermatologist to prevent skin cancer. We have offices in Beverly Hills, Newport Beach and Fullerton, California and Honolulu Hawaii.