It’s March. We’re at the doorstep of Spring and plotting St. Patty’s Day celebrations and or shenanigans, at the very least, a boiled dinner of epic proportions. We’re not looking to dampen the excitement, but it’s as good a time as ever to talk about the implications of being of Irish descent, and what that means in terms of risk and remedial efforts in terms of skin care.
Generally speaking, a large populace of Irish people is fair skinned. If you’re like me, you may also have red hair, blue eyes and an abundance of freckles or moles accessorizing that fair skin. Statistics show that with fair skin comes the fairly certain actualization that you’re at a much higher risk of being faced with a skin cancer prognosis at some point in your life. Simply put, the sun does not treat us well. We have a much greater risk of getting sunburned, and with a sunburn comes an increased possibility of skin cancer.
Truths, Myths and Misconceptions
Truth: Subjecting yourself to as little as five blistering sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 years old increases your chances of developing melanoma by 80%.
Misconception: “The burn will eventually turn into a tan.” While this may be technically true, that same burn could eventually turn into much worse.
Truth: Skin cancer can take 20-30 years to fully develop. Think of it as “watering the garden.” The seed has been planted, and, in this case, if you’re watering said garden by subjecting yourself to the exposure of UV radiation, the seed is going to sprout. Once it sprouts, full-fledged budding will ensue. The end result? A beautiful cornucopia of skin cancer.
Myth: “I’m young. I’m immune to skin cancer.” This is 100% false and the wrong way to look at things. We need to swap out the thought that “tan is beautiful” and get the point across that tanning is detrimental.
Irish Sunburn Statistics
Taking it back to the motherland for a moment, in Ireland, the Irish Cancer Society reports that:
Every three minutes in Ireland someone gets a cancer diagnosis. Every hour someone dies from cancer. Incidence of cancer is growing…
- By 2020, 1 in 2 people in Ireland will develop cancer during their lifetime.
- In Ireland an average of 40,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year.
To, probably, no surprise, skin cancer is the number one form of cancer in Ireland. However, simply standing in the sun isn’t the only factor that contributes to cancer among us fair-skinned folks.
Stay Aware of Your Skinstory
Know your family history. If there’s a record of skin cancer in your family, get your skin checked with a dermatologist more frequently.
Know your skin. If you’re freckled, which is more evident when you’ve exposed yourself to the sun, and have moles present on your body, keep an eye on them. Note changes. Talk to your dermatologist about said changes. If you happen to have greater than 100 moles, statistics are not on your side. Seriously, keep an eye on things, and keep an open dialogue with medical professionals. Leaving things to chance doesn’t give you the best chance for a happy, healthy life.
Protect your skin. Nearly all skin cancers are avoidable. You can significantly lower your risk by being proactive about your personal skincare. Consider the following:
- Apply at least SPF 15 sunscreen year-round;
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours, even when it’s cloudy;
- Avoid the sun when it’s the strongest, in the middle of the day, typically 11am to 4pm;
- Avoid tanning beds;
- Wear protective clothing, including sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat if you expect to be in the sun for extended periods of time; and
- Seek shade where possible.
For all us Irish men and women, heck everybody, enjoy your St. Patrick’s Day, and enjoy the sun. Just do it safely. A healthy, safe approach today, makes for all-the-more happy, healthy tomorrows.