Yes, it's possible to enjoy the warm summer months, soak up essential vitamin D and protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays. Here are seven ways to help prevent skin cancer (even if you're genetically predisposed) and keep your skin youthful, beautiful and healthy.
Though no single tip here should be practiced alone (in this case, more is more, and most should be done in conjunction with the others), by adding these safeguards to your daily routine, you’ll be on your way to strong, healthy skin all year long. And these little tidbits could save your skin and your life.
1. Examine Your Family's Health History
In safeguarding against any disease or ailment, it’s prudent to surmise all risk factors and apply preventive measures as necessary. Not all skin cancers are genetic, but one of the most basic ways to determine risk factors is to analyze family history. If skin cancer or melanoma has occurred at least once or twice in a family, it's safe to assume the risk for that disease is higher in that family, says the American Academy of Dermatology.
But knowledge is power. Knowing you're at increased risk because of family history means you should be extra vigilant with your skin protection strategy. Follow the tips provided here and be diligent to employ rigid preventions and surveillance. You are your best line of defense.
2. Always Wear Sunscreen Outside
If you’ve heard rumors that sunscreen isn't effective for controlling skin cancer and planned to forgo it on your next trip to the beach, think again! Though sunscreen application wasn’t found effective at preventing basal cell carcinoma or melanoma in the short term, it does help prevent squamous cell carcinoma (another form of skin cancer).
Besides, the American Academy of Dermatology still recommends year-round application of broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher to all areas of the body exposed to the sun. Though the jury is still out on the true effectiveness of sunscreen for preventing all types of skin cancers over the longer term, we know it works for at least one potentially deadly form. So keep applying!
3. Choose Sun-Safe Apparel
It’s understandable to want to shed the layers when you’re outside in the heat of the day, but you may want to consider covering up. When combined with sunscreen application, the use of protective clothing (including hats with a brim all the way around and wraparound sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays) can decrease the chances that moles and premalignant lesions form on your skin. So plan ahead when you know you’ll be outside for periods longer than 15 minutes.
Fortunately, summer and poolside clothing options that block the sun’s harmful rays are becoming more commonplace, so you can look fabulous in all of your cancer-prevention brilliance. But be sure to apply sunscreen under your new summer duds to keep all forms of skin cancer at bay.
Read more: The 30 Safest Sunscreens and 3 to Avoid
4. Keep an Eye on Your Skin
While fair-skinned individuals are generally more prone to freckles or moles, people of all skin tones should report new or changing skin discolorations and moles to their dermatologist. Even though skin cancers are not as prevalent in individuals with deeper complexions, they can experience even more morbidity and fatalities from skin cancer because it may go undiagnosed for longer periods.
Though the practice of visually scanning, or “eyeballing,” a patient’s body for any signs of malignancy is still done today, there are now more precise scanning methods, such as optical coherence tomography (among others), available to patients. Professionals say with these devices they see a decreasing incidence of skin cancers, including melanoma from individuals who regularly submit to surface scans. The takeaway? Whether you are light, medium or dark-skinned, pay attention. Surveillance is key.
5. Eat (and Drink) to Fight Cancer
External protections like clothing and sunscreen are well known to help prevent various forms of skin cancer. But what you eat and drink can also contribute to your skin’s ability to fight off cancer. A 2014 review in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found certain nutrients not only help prevent cancer but actually fight it off.
These include any food containing grape seed proanthocyanidins, epigallocatechin-3-gallate, resveratrol, rosmarinic acid, lycopene and fig latex showed significant skin-cancer- and melanoma-fighting properties. Some of the best places to find these cancer-fighting nutrients follow.
Read more: 10 Foods That Are Bad For Your Skin
Cancer-Fighting Food: Grapes and Grape Seed Extract
Grapes and grape seed extract (the latter being more potent) contain vital proanthocyanidins — antioxidants that destroy free radicals. Free radicals are harmful compounds in the body that damage your DNA and contribute to a host of illnesses, including cancer. The sun's harmful rays are like food to free radicals and are known to damage your DNA as well. Researchers found the highest concentration of the proanthocyanidin free-radical killers to be in the grape seed extract, but it was also found in the grapes themselves.
Cancer-Fighting Foods: Tea and Carob
White or green tea (black tea not so much) as well as carob (widely known as a chocolate substitute) are great warriors against skin cancer. Each of these contains the highest known concentrations of epigallocatechin-3-gallate (an antioxidant that kills free radicals), and they were found to have a similar effect as some chemotherapeutic anticancer drugs.
So it turns out one of the very things medicine has been utilizing to fight cancer for years can be used holistically for early prevention! The next time you’re thinking of enjoying a cup of tea, make it green or white, and maybe throw in a carob cookie while you’re at it.
Read more: Green Tea and Other 19 Anti-Aging Foods
Cancer-Fighting Foods: Red Wine, Dark Chocolate & Peanut Butter
Sound like your dream-come-true snack? Well, these foods and beverages are rich in a dietary nutrient known as resveratrol, which has some serious melanoma preventive properties. But don’t add a resveratrol supplement to your shopping list: Studies show that as you age, too much resveratrol can block the benefits of exercise, causing high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Get resveratrol through your diet and your body will be well-equipped with some powerful skin-cancer-fighting nutrients.
Cancer-Fighting Foods #8 and 9: Mint and Figs
Adding fresh mint (rosmarinic acid) and figs (fig latex) to your diet will further enable your body to prevent skin cancer before it ever occurs. In addition to lowering skin-cancer risk, mint is known to soothe the skin, help cure skin infections and itchiness (it has a cooling effect), and potentially help reduce pimples and relieve some of the symptoms of acne. In the same vein, mint oil is often used as a bug repellent (used in citronella candles), which means this little soldier goes to work for your skin in numerous ways. As for figs, well, they’re packed with antioxidants and free-radical killers. The riper the fig, the more fig latex and the higher the potency.
Cancer-Fighting Foods #10+: From Guava to Tomato: The Lycopene List
Lycopene is a carotenoid that gives many fruits and vegetables their red and orange color and has been shown to help fight skin cancer. Some of the foods richest in lycopene (in order of highest concentration) are fresh guava, watermelon, tomatoes, papaya, grapefruit and sweet red peppers (cooked). But don’t discount a food just because it’s not red or orange. Even cooked asparagus has a good amount of lycopene. Consume plenty of these foods and turn yourself into a skin-cancer-fighting machine all year long.
6. Go Ahead — Scratch the Surface
Facial resurfacing has been used to treat sun damage or burns, but resurfacing the skin, whether via topical creams or chemical or laser peels, may also play a role in preventing skin cancer. You can now honestly say that you had that chemical peel in order to prevent skin cancer! In fact, research conducted found that not only was there a decrease in new skin cancer cases, but also that patients who’d had peels or resurfacing treatments took a much longer time to develop skin cancer.
7. Take an Aspirin a Day
The fact that aspirin, ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are great tools for a myriad ailments is not new information. But a 2014 review from Cancer Prevention Research indicates that regular, as-needed use of these over-the-counter medications for various other ailments may contribute to your body’s ability to prevent or fight off melanoma.
Researchers are quick to point out that this should not lead people to believe these medications prevent skin cancer. The jury is still out and further research is needed, but adding a doctor-approved daily dose of aspirin certainly couldn’t hurt, particularly if you’re in a climate with lots of harmful ultraviolet rays. Add this to your other preventive measures now for possible prevention later.
Read more: 20 Anti-Aging Foods
What Do YOU Think?
Are you concerned about skin cancer? Will you be able to incorporate some of these tips into your life to make a difference? Do you either have a relative who’s suffered from skin cancer? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and let’s keep the conversation going!
- OCT scans
- Nutrition: The future of melanoma prevention?
- Grape Seed
- 4 Foods That Are Good Sources of Resveratrol
- Aspirin, ibuprofen or related painkillers - NSAIDs – non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs
- Skin cancer preventive behavior and sun protection recommendations.
- Sunscreen use for Skin Cancer Prevention
Lisa Jey Davis is a women's health and fitness professional, Pilates instructor, Lagree Method certified trainer and a yoga instructor. She is also an award-winning writer, whose articles have appeared in "Albuquerque Magazine" and "Mountain Parent Magazine," as well as on numerous online outlets, including The Huffington Post.