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Turn the Tables on Skin Cancer

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woman in sunhat

Many of us love to soak in the sun during the summertime, but the sun often doesn’t show the same love to our skin. Maybe sunscreen never used to have a place in your skin care routine; maybe you spent too much time on the beach or forgot to wear a hat at your kids’ soccer games. But once the damage of skin cancer is done, is it possible to reverse its effects? Cooper Clinic preventive and cosmetic dermatologist Kejal R. Shah, MD, FAAD, shares practical ways to prevent and reverse the effects of sun damage.

Skin cancer occurs when there is a mutation in the skin cells’ DNA and results in a growth of abnormal cells in the outermost layer of the skin, the epidermis. These mutations can lead these abnormal cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors.

The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and melanoma. The two main causes of these skin cancers are ultraviolent (UV) radiation from the sun’s harmful rays and tanning bed use. “Any skin color is susceptible to developing skin cancer. However the more fair the skin tone and the lighter the color of one’s eyes, the less pigment, or melanin, there is to protect the skin from UV radiation,” says Dr. Shah. She explains other factors can lead to developing skin cancer including:

  • Weakened immune system
  • Family history of skin cancer
  • Certain internal malignancies such as pancreatic cancer
  • Atypical moles

Practicing preventive measures to protect your skin and taking steps to rebuild a healthy functioning skin barrier can help effectively prevent skin cancer and reverse the effects of sun damage.

Practically prevent your risk of skin cancer
Seek shade.
The sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Cover up. Wear a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses when you are outdoors. Since UV radiation can penetrate through fabric, investing in sun-protective clothing with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) might be worthwhile. The higher the UPF the better!

Apply sunscreen daily. Dr. Shah recommends using broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30+. For extended outdoor activities, use a water-resistant sunscreen and reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.

Avoid sunburn and tanning bed use. UV rays penetrate glass, so consider adding tinted UV-protective film to the windows in your car, house and office.

Prioritize regular skin checks. Do complete head-to-toe skin checks on yourself and see your dermatologist for a full-body skin examination each year.

Effectively reverse the effects of sun damage
Sun damage is not caused by a singular event but rather the ongoing sun exposure throughout the course of life. Sun damage commonly manifests itself through sun spots, sunburns and dry skin. “Even low-grade sun exposure can damage the collagen and DNA of skin cells,” says Dr. Shah. She further explains this is why it’s important to protect your skin against future sun damage in the form of pre-cancerous spots and skin cancers.

Various laser treatments, such as IPL (intense pulsed light), serve as viable options to help reverse sun damage and skin cancers. This specific treatment focuses on treating the brown spots as well as redness caused by harmful UV radiation. IPL transmits bright light typically through a handheld device that targets abnormal pigmentation.

A number of over-the-counter, as well as in-office, treatments are available to target everything from dull complexions to wrinkles, dark spots and even precancerous lesions. “Unfortunately, there are no quick remedies to reverse sun damage. It takes skin cells several weeks to completely renew after treatment,” Dr. Shah explains. “During this time, it is best to stay out of the sun and stock up on moisturizing products.”

Build a skin care routine to rebuild your skin’s barrier
Having a healthy and fully functioning skin barrier can aid in keeping skin hydrated and protecting it from harmful free radicals such as microorganisms, allergens and radiation. Developing a daily skin care routine can help preserve the skin’s barrier and increase its regeneration and elasticity. In turn, this will help to reduce wrinkles, brown spots and signs of aging.

Preserving or protecting the skin’s barrier can also be achieved by the reduction of inflammation by antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin A.

“I recommend my patients use retinol and antioxidant products in combination with daily application of broad spectrum sunscreens of SPF 30+,” says Dr. Shah. Antioxidant serum that contains vitamin C helps neutralize the free radicals from UV radiation and pollution while vitamin A derivatives, such as retinol or retinoic acid, supercharge cell turnover, speed up cell renewal and stimulate collagen production.

Reversing sun damage and helping prevent skin cancer is achievable with practical steps and specific treatments. Just as it took years of ongoing sun exposure to damage the collagen and DNA of skin cells, it also takes time to develop healthy habits and effectively treat sun damaged skin or skin cancers. As always, consult with a board certified dermatologist to discuss what preventive measures, products and treatments would best meet your skin’s unique needs.

To learn more about Cooper Clinic Dermatology services, click here or call 972.367.6000.