How to Prevent Skin Cancer From Sun Damage


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Research has made it clear that repeated unprotected sun exposure, getting sunburned, or repeatedly getting tan causes DNA damage that triggers skin cells to mutate. Over time and in the absence of sun protection and sun-smart behavior, these mutations turn into skin cancers.
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One Million Cases Every Year—and Growing!

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), one million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year. A million! That statistic gives skin cancer the unfavorable distinction of being the most common form of cancer in the United States.

Most skin cancers fall into three categories:

  • basal cell carcinomas
  • squamous cell carcinomas
  • melanomas

Basal and squamous cell carcinomas are caused by repeated, unprotected sun exposure that cause DNA mutations which lead to the proliferation of malfunctioning cells. Melanomas are caused by the sun, too, but also have a genetic component.

An Australian study done in 2013 showed that when a well-formulated sunscreen is applied to exposed skin as directed, it offers 100% protection against all three types of skin cancer. What's more, regular sunscreen use also protects an anti-cancer gene in skin known as p53 from becoming damaged. Sunscreen does a lot more than just protect against sunburn and premature aging (Source: Pigment Cell and Melanoma Research, November 2013, pages 835-844).

Other than sun protection, you should be aware of some early, telltale signs of skin cancer. Early detection of skin cancer can save your skin and your life.

The 5 Most Typical Characteristics of Skin Cancer

  1. A persistent sore that may bleed but doesn't heal.
  2. A reddish patch or irritated area that doesn't go away. Sometimes these patches will crust over or flake off, but they never go away completely.
  3. A smooth growth with a distinct rolled border and an indented center. It can look like a small blemish or wound, but tends to grow and doesn't heal.
  4. A shiny bump or nodule with a slick, smooth surface that can be pink, red, white, black, brown, or purple in color. It can look like a mole, but the texture and shine are what make it different.
  5. A white patch of skin that has a smooth, scar-like texture. The area of white skin can have a taut, clear appearance that stands out from the appearance of the surrounding skin.

Other Ways to Identify Skin Cancer

The American Academy of Dermatology has a list of the "A, B, C, Ds: of identifying skin cancer. They are:

  • A = Asymmetry: One-half of the lesion or suspect area is unlike the other half.
  • B = Border: There is an irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border around a skin lesion or mole.
  • C = Color: Color varies from one area to another, with shades of tan, brown, black, white, red, or blue.
  • D = Diameter: The area is generally larger than 6mm (the diameter of a pencil eraser).

If you see any evidence of these types of marks on your body it is essential you see your dermatologist as soon as possible. Persons with fair to light skin (especially natural blondes and redheads) or those with a family history of skin cancer should do monthly skin exams and see their doctor at least once per year for a full body skin examination.

Everyone should become very familiar with any marks, moles, bumps, or lesions on their body. The more familiar you are with your skin, the sooner you'll notice any changes that may require your doctor's attention. When caught early, most skin cancers are curable!

Learn more about what the sun is doing to your skin and how you can prevent it. See our sunscreen infographic.

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth scientific research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! See Paula's Choice Sun Protection Products.

(Sources: Mutation Research, October 2010, pages 141–153; Cancer Epidemiological Biomarkers and Prevention, September 2008, pages 2388–2392; Dermatology, February 2008, pages 124–136; International Journal of Cancer, November 2007, pages 2105–2108; Recent Results in Cancer Research, Volume 163, 2003, pages 151–164; American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, May-June 2000, pages 167–179; Archives of Dermatology, December 2000, pages 1447–1449; and Journal of the American Medical Association, June 2000, pages 2955–2960.)

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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