Skin cancer is a leading health concern looming and affecting millions in the United States. With the nation’s sunlit shores, love for outdoor culture, and affinity for basking in the sun’s warmth, it comes as no surprise that skin cancer rates are rising, impacting individuals across all walks of life.
Despite the captivating allure of sun-kissed skin, the reality is that having five or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma. Approximately 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, and more than 48 people die from skin cancer every day. This condition poses severe health risks, serving as a reminder to use sun protection in a country where the pursuit of the perfect tan often intertwines with the pursuit of happiness.
However, the truth about skin cancer goes beyond the sun-drenched days we typically associate with its risks. For example, on days when the sun is out of sight, our skin remains vulnerable to damage. As such, we must understand the significance of protective measures in our ongoing battle against skin cancer.
Facts About Skin Cancer, Cloudy Days, Shade, and Protective Clothing
Read on to expand your knowledge about sun damage and learn how to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer.
1. You must wear sunscreen on cloudy days
Even on cloudy days, applying sunscreen is crucial for adequate sun protection. Some reasons why sunscreen is necessary despite cloud cover include:
- UV radiation penetration: Like shades under a tree or umbrella, clouds cannot block ultraviolet (UV) radiation completely. Although thicker, darker clouds may provide higher levels of UV absorption, cumulus clouds allow significant amounts of UV rays to pass and reach the Earth’s surface. Both UVA and UVB rays can cut through clouds, leading to potential skin damage.
- UVA rays and cloud cover: Cancer-causing UVA rays from the sun can easily penetrate through clouds, windows, and light-colored clothing. These rays contribute to premature skin aging, eye damage, and can increase the risk of skin cancer.
- UV reflection: Clouds can be reflective surfaces, especially when they are thick or have a lighter color. This reflection can enhance UV radiation exposure by bouncing the rays off the cloud layers and directing them toward the skin. In other words, even if you are under the seemingly safe protection of a cloud’s shade, you are likely receiving indirect UV radiation.
- Cumulative sun exposure: Excessive exposure to UV radiation, even in small amounts, may accumulate over time, contributing to long-term skin damage and increased skin cancer risk. Applying sunscreen on cloudy days can help mitigate this effect by providing ongoing skin protection.
- UV index variability: The UV index, which indicates the strength of UV radiation, can vary throughout the day and from one location to another, irrespective of cloud cover. In some cases, the UV index may be high despite cloudiness, posing a risk of skin damage and cancer-causing sunburns. Always check the UV index of your area and take appropriate sun protection measures to safeguard your skin.
2. Seeking shade does NOT protect against skin damage
Despite common belief, it’s possible to get sunburned while seeking shade from the sun. Here’s why and how:
- UV radiation penetration: While the Earth’s atmosphere absorbs most UVC rays, UVA and UVB can make their way through clouds, car windows, some types of clothing, etc. These rays can easily reach your skin in the shade, causing potential sun damage. Understand The Difference Between UVA, UVB, and UVC Rays here.
- Direct and indirect UV exposure: Although seeking shade provides some protection from direct sunlight, similar to cloud cover, it cannot block ultraviolet radiation at 100 percent capacity. UV rays can scatter, reflect, and refract. They can reach you indirectly, even if you’re under a tree, an umbrella, or indoors surrounded by windows. UV rays can bounce off reflective surfaces, including sand, water, concrete, or light-colored surfaces, meaning they can reach your skin from unexpected angles.
- Time of day and location: The strength of the sun’s rays varies throughout the day, depending on your geographical location. Even if you seek shade, being outdoors during peak sun hours (between 10 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon), when the UV intensity is higher, makes you more susceptible to sunburns.
3. UPF clothing alone provides inadequate sun protection
Protective clothing plays a valuable role in sun protection. However, wide-brimmed summer hats and long-sleeved shirts cannot prevent skin cancer on their own. Here’s why combining measures – such as wearing protective clothing while using sunscreen and seeking shade – are necessary:
- UV reflection and penetration: As mentioned, ultraviolet radiation can bounce off certain surfaces and reach your skin from unexpected angles.
- Inconsistent coverage: While protective clothing acts as a physical barrier between the sun’s rays and your skin, it can leave parts of the body exposed and vulnerable to UV exposure. From the back of your neck to the palms of your hands, unprotected areas are still prone to sunburn and potential skin damage.
- Fabric variability: The level of UV protection from clothing varies depending on factors such as fabric type, weave, thickness, and color. Dense, tightly woven fabrics with dark colors generally provide better UV protection compared to lightweight or lighter-colored materials. You can also opt for clothing with a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) label, which indicates its effectiveness against UV radiation.
- Limited protection: If clothing stretches or becomes transparent when wet, it may provide less UV protection.
- Sun angle and coverage: The angle at which the sun’s rays hit your body can influence how effective clothing is in blocking UV radiation. For example, during peak hours when the sun is overhead, your body’s shadow may be minimized. UV rays can reach your skin from different angles, including underneath your clothes or through gaps in clothing coverage.
The bottom line: Combining multiple sun protection strategies can help minimize your skin cancer risk.
Integrate sun-safe behaviors into your daily routine, ensuring to apply sunscreen, seek shade during peak sun hours, and wear protective clothing with a UPF rating. By adopting a comprehensive approach and observing Don’t Fry Day every day, you can better protect yourself against UV radiation and reduce the risk of developing skin cancer.
When Skin Cancer Strikes
Going the conventional route is no longer your sole option. For non-melanoma or melanoma treatments that are significantly less invasive and painful than surgical solutions, contact New Hope Unlimited. Our cancer care team can help you take control of your cancer journey by personalizing your treatment options. Together, we will pave the way toward a customized path to healing.