The statistics on skin cancer in the US alone are overwhelming. Over 90% of skin cancers are caused by over-exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, as well as from tanning booths which can be even more dangerous than the sun. One in five people will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer by age 70. Almost 10,000 new diagnoses are made each day. More people are diagnosed with skin cancer than all other cancer cases combined. And these numbers are rising fast. What can you do to reduce your risk of skin cancer? Here’s what you need to know and how to protect yourself from sun damage and risks.
Skin Cancer Types and Risk Factors
There are three main kinds of skin cancer. The first and least harmful is slow growing basal cell carcinoma (BCC), followed by more aggressive squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). The most dangerous and life-threatening is the highly aggressive and invasive melanoma skin cancer. Basal and squamous cell are considered non-melanoma skin cancers, and this group also includes other less common and slower growing skin cancers.
Basal cell carcinoma is considered the least dangerous because it doesn’t tend to spread. It usually shows up as a raised area of skin that may be red or dark pink, and is commonly found on areas of the body that get more sun exposure, like the face, ears, scalp, and back and shoulders. Although it’s the least dangerous in terms of cancer risk, BCC can still cause skin damage and require removal.
Squamous cell carcinoma is more dangerous than BCC, because it can spread to other areas of the body. SCC usually appears as scaly red skin patches, growths with indented centers, wart-like growths, or other lesions. SCC can be deadly if left untreated, causing around 2,500 skin cancer deaths each year in the US. Like BCC, it appears mainly on areas of the body that get the most sun exposure.
Melanoma is deadliest of all skin cancers. Damaged skin cells mutate and multiply rapidly to form aggressive tumors that start in the pigment producing cells in the skin. Melanoma often looks like black or brown moles, although it sometimes shows up in other colors, or blends in with skin. The risks of metastasis in melanoma are very high if left untreated. Around 10,000 people die each year in the US from melanoma metastasis to other organs. This is why early detection is critical, and with surgery it can be curable. However, even after surgery, risks of recurrence are high, and call for targeted strategies to help keep this invasive cancer from returning.
Sun Exposure Risks
Natural sunlight is how your body produces vitamin D, one of the most important nutrients that optimizes immunity and fights cancer—including skin cancer. Healthy sun exposure supports heart health and helps us live longer—as long as we can protect our skin.
Too much sun and ultraviolet radiation from UV rays are shown to have long-term damaging effects, damaging and weakening your skin cells and DNA, leading to increased cancer risks. Sun exposure can also cause premature aging, wrinkles, increase oxidative stress in your body, and other risks to our skin and health.
How To Lower Your Risk of Skin Cancer
With the increases in melanoma and other skin cancers, public health experts have been urging people to increase their sunscreen use. New guidelines recommend that sunscreen be applied multiple times a day, especially in sunny climates.
Sunscreen can prevent the DNA damage caused by too much sun exposure, but unfortunately, it’s only a first step, and may be damaging. Analysis from the Environmental Working Group shows that many sunscreen brands contain chemicals that can damage cells, disrupt hormones and even cause cancer. One of the safest topical sunscreens is natural zinc oxide, which delivers broad-spectrum mineral-based protection and also helps repair damaged skin.
Your skin is a reflection of your health, so in order to protect it, you need an internal and external approach. To lower your risk of skin cancer, here are some top sun safety skincare essentials:
- Stay in the shade when possible
- Wear protective clothing that covers your arms and legs
- Wear a sunhat with a wide brim to shade your face, head, ears, and neck
- Wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays
- Use a safe sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher
- Take antioxidants for internal skin protection
Natural Ingredients for Healthy Skin
Antioxidants are a powerful tool that can protect your cells and skin from the sun. A diet high in antioxidant foods and supplements can increase your skin’s defenses against sun damage and cancer caused by against excessive UV exposure.1 Here are some antioxidant ingredients that can help you protect your skin and reduce risks of sun damage and skin cancer:
- Green leafy vegetables are a great source of carotenoids, which enhance skin pigmentation and sun protection.2.
- Studies show that eating tomatoes, which are high in Lycopene, an antioxidant nutrient, can help prevent sunburns and UV damage.3
- Green tea leaf extract, cat’s claw bark and the antioxidant alpha lipoic acid are also shown to help defend against UV radiation and the resulting damage.4-6
- Honokiol, a unique compound extracted from magnolia bark, is a potent antioxidant that’s shown in studies to protect against skin cancer. It’s also a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer ingredient, as well as a powerful anti-anxiety and relaxation supplement.7
- Clinically researched Modified Citrus Pectin is an important super-nutrient to protect against skin cancer, and other cancers. This form of MCP is proven to be the only available agent that can effectively block a major pro-cancer protein in the body called galectin-3. By deactivating galectin-3, modified citrus pectin is shown to halt and reverse numerous types of cancer as well as other inflammatory diseases. Research shows that galectin-3 drives melanoma growth and metastasis, making MCP an important strategy to defend your skin against this aggressive form of cancer.8
With a healthy diet and safe sunscreens, my top recommendation for healthy sun exposure, skin protection and reducing your risk of skin cancer is to boost your body’s defenses with super-nutrients and antioxidants to prevent sun damage and nourish your skin from the inside out.
1. Saric S, Sivamani RK. Polyphenols and Sunburn. Int J Mol Sci. 2016 Sep 9;17(9):1521.
2. Kim J, Park MK, Li W, Qureshi AA, Cho E. Association of Vitamin A Intake With Cutaneous Squamous Cell Carcinoma Risk in the United States. JAMA Dermatol. 2019;155(11):1260–1268.
3. Cooperstone, J.L., Tober, K.L., Riedl, K.M. et al. Tomatoes protect against development of UV-induced keratinocyte carcinoma via metabolomic alterations. Sci Rep 7, 5106 (2017).
4. Katiyar SK. Skin photoprotection by green tea: antioxidant and immunomodulatory effects. Curr Drug Targets Immune Endocr Metabol Disord. 2003 Sep;3(3):234-42.
5. Demir U, Demir T, Ilhan N. The protective effect of alpha-lipoic acid against oxidative damage in rabbit conjunctiva and cornea exposed to ultraviolet radiation. Ophthalmologica. 2005 Jan-Feb;219(1):49-53.
6. Mammone T, Akesson C, Gan D, Giampapa V, Pero RW. A water soluble extract from Uncaria tomentosa (Cat’s Claw) is a potent enhancer of DNA repair in primary organ cultures of human skin. Phytother Res. 2006 Mar;20(3):178-83.
7. Liu T, Liu H, Wang P, et al. Honokiol Inhibits Melanoma Growth by Targeting Keratin 18 in vitro and in vivo. Front Cell Dev Biol. 2020;8:603472.
8. Braeuer RR, Zigler M, Kamiya T, Dobroff AS, Huang L, Choi W, McConkey DJ, Shoshan E, Mobley AK, Song R, Raz A, Bar-Eli M. Galectin-3 contributes to melanoma growth and metastasis via regulation of NFAT1 and autotaxin. Cancer Res. 2012 Nov 15;72(22):5757-66.