In my practice, I see and operate on a lot of folks with melanoma…sometimes as many as 6 cases per month. Even more alarming is the fact that I operated on dozens of other types of skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma) per month. Obviously, the lighter your skin, the higher your risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers. Fitzpatrick classification is what we Plastic Surgeons use to assist us in stratifying a patient’s risk of cancer and ability to heal. Bottom line…the lower your class, the higher your risk.
Pic of Fitzpatrick class scale
Mitigating your risk (i.e., protecting your skin) is one of the underpublicized secrets to anti-aging of the skin. For my patients, I emphasize regular sunscreen with an SPF 35 or higher for regular routine activities. If my patient is undergoing a treatment (through medical skin care, resurfacing procedure, or surgery), I recommend SPF 50 or higher.
So you may ask, “why do I want to block all the UV…I want to be tan!” Tan ‘til your heart’s content, but rest assured that if you do, you will look much older than your peers when you reach your 40’s, or sometimes sooner. And here’s the reason why.
UV radiation damages the DNA of your skin cells. The result of this will be premature aging and worse, skin cancer. If you tan or get a lot of sun exposure (i.e. sunburns, etc.) you may not see the effects for decades but rest assured, the DNA damage that the sun causes will eventually catch up to you. And, you will then find yourself in my office complaining of wrinkles, age spots, or even worse, skin cancer.
Take home: Apply sunscreen daily and use a good product!
For more information about SPF and sunscreens, see my blog on SPF.
1Facts About Sunscreen, American Melanoma Foundation, Melanomafoundation.org, 2006.