Skin care in Cancun

  Ultra violet light is just beyond the visible light band with slightly shorter wavelengths. There are three types of UV rays; UVA, UVB, and UVC.  The UVC rays are so weak that they do not penetrate the earth’s atmosphere and so are nothing to worry about.

The UVB rays only penetrate the epidermis (outer layer of the skin) and are believed to be the major cause of skin cancer. They also cause most of the redness associated with sunburns. You can sit in the sun with a UVB sun blocking agent and not get sunburned but the UVA radiation will cause major problems as well as skin cancer.

UVA rays are longer wavelengths than UVB rays but penetrate the dermis (inner skin layer) and can cause damage to parts of the dermis. Some scientists believe they may even damage our immune system’s ability to fight melanoma. Tiny blood capillaries in the skin dilate with groups of red and white blood vessels to produce the red coloration when exposed to too much sun.

UVB rays stimulate melanocytes in your skin to produce the pigment melanin. The melanin in your skin absorbs UVA rays and turns the pigment brown resulting in the tan look. A suntan is a natural body defense from further injury but frequent overexposure induces skin thickening, rapid skin aging, and higher frequencies of skin disorders.

Skin Cancer

Over exposure to UV radiation can cause genetic mutation in basal skin cells and cause skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer with one out of seven Americans developing some form of skin cancer every year.

There are three types of skin cancer: basal-cell carcinoma, squamous-cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma. Malignant melanoma is not the only dangerous form of skin cancer, although 755 of skin cancer deaths are due to malignant melanoma.

Those at high risk of skin cancer generally fit into one of the following categories: spend a lot of time outdoors, have fair skin, sunburn easily, live in a sunny area or at a high altitude where ultra-violet rays are especially strong, were born with large irregularly shaped moles, or have a family history of malignant melanoma.

Basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer, can be a red patch, an open sore, a pearly translucent nodule, a smooth growth with an elevated rolled border and an indentation in the center, or a scar like area. It can crust, become sore, or bleed. It can destroy surrounding tissue but does not spread and generally is not fatal.

Squamous-cell carcinoma, the second most common type of skin cancer, may be a hard raised pinkish nodule or a red crusty patch. It may ulcerate in the center and can destroy surrounding tissue and can spread. This form of cancer can be fatal if it goes untreated.

Both of these types of skin cancer are common in people who spend many hours outdoors. They usually occur on exposed areas of the skin such as face, neck, hands, arms, and scalp, but can appear elsewhere.

Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is usually a brown-black or multicolored patch, asymmetrical in shape with an irregular border or nodule (a hard knot). It may crust or bleed. This type of skin cancer can occur on or near a mole, especially atypical moles. They can be found on the upper back, chest, abdomen, arms, legs, and areas not regularly exposed to the sun. It is caused mainly by UV exposure, or those who are genetically predisposed to the disease.

People who receive bursts of sun intensity such as at the beach, golfing, fishing and other outdoor activities even though they work indoors can get this type of skin cancer. Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

There are four stages of Melanoma: Stage 1 can be as thick as 1.0 millimeter and is confined to the skin; Stage II the thickness ranges from 1.01 to 4.0 millimeters, the skin covering the melanoma has broken open but the cancer has not spread; Stage III the melanoma has spread to one or more lymph nodes or nearby skin; and in Stage IV the melanoma has spread to an internal organ, lymph nodes from the original melanoma, or is found on the skin far from the original melanoma.

In most cases, you can see changes in your skin early enough to cure the cancer. You should examine your body regularly and see a dermatologist if you see abnormal signs: a growth that gets bigger and appears pearly, translucent, black or multicolored; a mole or birthmark that changes color, size, or texture; a spot or growth that begins to itch, hurt, crust, or bleed; or an open sore or wound that doesn’t heal within four weeks, or reopens after it has healed. Examine your children’s skin regularly for changes in moles, skin discolorations, and even in their freckles.

Going to a dermatologist to get abnormal cells burned off (actually frozen) or removed by surgical excision only takes a few minutes and could save you from larger potential problems later. Customarily, the dermatologist will send a sample of an abnormal area off to the lab for confirmation of the type of skin cancer.

The dermatologist may want to get the results back before determining how much of the area he wants to remove. In that case, you may have to come back for another appointment. If he doesn’t remove all of the affected area, it is possible that the skin cancer can come back.



   The idea that a suntan base can protect you from ultraviolet radiation damage is not true. At best, a suntan can only provide a screening power equivalent to a SPF (sun protection factor) 4, which is almost nothing. In order to increase the amount of sunscreen protection, you will have to apply a strong enough SPF that will protect you from the sun’s radiation. Dermatologists recommend using a SPF15 or SPF30 sunscreen. SPF measures sunscreen protection from UVB rays, the kind that cause sunburn and contribute to skin cancer. SPF does not measure how well a sunscreen will protect from UVA rays, which are also damaging and dangerous.

   High number SPF lotions last the same amount of time as low numbered SPFs. Some people have a misconception that an SPF rating relates to the amount of time it allows you to stay in the sun. This is not true. A SPF of 15 does not allow you to stay fifteen times longer in the sun without getting sunburned. SPF is related to the amount of total solar exposure, not the amount of time.

The sun is stronger in the middle of the day compared to early morning or late evening. Solar intensity is related to geographic location, with greater intensity at lower latitudes.

You should opt for a broad spectrum sunscreen. Not all sunscreens are broad spectrum, so look on the label to make sure you are protected from UVA and UVB rays. Some say they protect you against UVA & UVB rays, but they may only cover a small portion of the UVA spectrum.

Because sunscreens are considered a drug, manufacturing of sunscreens come under the FDA jurisdiction. FDA regulations require all sunscreens have an expiration date unless stability testing was conducted by the manufacturer. In that case the product will remain stable for at least three years. The FDA recommends that sunscreens containers not be exposed to direct sunlight or excessive heat. Covering it with a towel or in a cooler will keep the chemicals from deteriorating and the product will keep its effectiveness.

Know your skin. Fair-skinned people will absorb more solar energy than dark-skinned people under the

same conditions. Suntan lotions come in oils, cream, spray, gels, sticks, and other forms. The kind that you use is a matter of personal choice but some are better than others depending on the area you want covered. Creams are best for dry skin and the face, gels are good for hairy areas such as the scalp, and sticks are good around the eyes.

Dermatologists do not recommend sprays as the preferred sunscreen as some areas may not get the needed amount of coverage, and it’s not a good idea to inhale this product. It’s better to spray it on your hand and rub it onto your face so as not to chance inhaling it while spraying it on your face.

It is not recommended to put suntan lotions on children under six months. It would be better to keep them out of the sun entirely. Check with your doctor if you do wish to apply sunscreens to children under the age of six months.

Many suntan lotions claim to be waterproof but no sunscreens are waterproof. They may be water resistant and products made in the U.S. have to be tested before the label can claim to be “water resistant.” The label should also state that the sunscreen remains effective for 40 minutes or 80 minutes before reapplying is required. Anytime you come out of the water, regardless if you are still within the sunscreen’s effective range, you should reapply.

There are two types of sunscreens, chemical sunscreens which work like a sponge absorbing the sun’s rays and a physical sunscreen that works like a shield. Chemical sunscreens contain the following active ingredients: avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, octinoxate, and oxybenzone. These formulas are easy to rub into the skin without leaving a white residue.

Physical sunscreens contain active ingredients such as: titanium oxide or zinc oxide. These are the best ingredients for people with sensitive skin.

Some recent studies question whether sunscreens even stop cancer. It’s true that sunscreens can help prevent sunburns, but researchers say there is still a high incidence of melanoma in sunscreen users.

People at high risk of melanoma (family history and those with light complexions) should use a high SPF, not bake in the sun for long periods, stay out of the sun during midday, and wear hats and long sleeve shirts when possible. The new Hydra shirts work well in the water and come in short and long sleeve. It is widely believed that those who have had major sunburns early in life are more susceptible to skin cancer later in life. Researchers found that regular sunscreen use before the age of 18 can reduce one’s lifetime risk of basal or squamous carcinomas by as much as 78%.

Biodegradable Sunscreens

Many of the various parks in and around Cancun, including the Mexican National Parks, require that you use a biodegradable form of suntan lotion. They may check your bags to see if you have a non-degradable sunscreen and may even confiscate non-biodegradable sunscreens, or not allow you in the park.

Biodegradable sunscreens are free from a majority of chemical ingredients that are harmful to plant and animal life as it washes off during swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, and other water activities. They settle on coral reefs and other marine life. They can promote viral growth and cause a bleaching to the reefs. In volume, they can even act like an oil slick on top of the water. Back in the day when all suntan lotions were accepted at places such as Xel Ha, you could actually see the oil in the water while snorkeling.

When used correctly, biodegradable sunscreens are just as effective as regular sunscreens and come in SPF 15, 30, or 50 just like regular sunscreen brands. It will decompose naturally while in the water.

Not all biodegradable sunscreens are acceptable at all of the parks. If you can’t find one before you leave for Cancun, most pharmacies and other locations around Cancun sell them. Most parks should have them for sale in their gift shops.

Some brands that claim to be biodegradable may not be. If they contain ingredients such as PABA, octinoxate, oxybenzone (a known hormone disruptor that can feminize fish), 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, or the preservative butylparaben, the product is harmful to a reef environment. The parks may actually refuse these types of biodegradable suntan lotions and you may be forced to purchase one from them before entering the park.

People, who are allergic or sensitive to regular sunscreen, may find that they can use biodegradable sunscreens without any problems as they do not contain PABA, which is the ingredient most are allergic to, and free from other chemicals that might be what makes them sensitive to normal sunscreens. PABA free sunscreen doesn’t necessarily mean the suntan lotion is biodegradable; it may contain other chemicals that are not environmentally friendly and not acceptable at the parks.

The consistency and dryness time is different than regular sunscreen. You will also have to reapply after exiting from the water and the application and reapplication times will most likely be different, so be sure to read the directions for proper use on whichever product you purchase.

Patience and understanding of the sun and its ultraviolet rays are a must if you are going to work on a tan or plan to be on the beach or around the pool for most of the day. Some get overanxious about getting a tan, especially on cloudy days. However, ultraviolet rays still penetrate through clouds and you can still come up with sunburn even though it was cloudy.

Other potential problems can arise if you are taking a prescription medication, or even over the counter medication while sunbathing. Many medicines will cause you to burn much faster than normal. You may want to check with your pharmacist or doctor if you are taking a medication and plan on working on a tan.

After Care

If you do get sunburned, it is important to stop further exposure to UV rays exposure and begin treating it as soon as possible. You can use a cool bath to reduce the heat, apply a moisturizer to trap the water in your skin and help ease the discomfort caused by dryness. Aspirin or ibuprofen can help reduce the swelling, redness and discomfort. Drinking extra water will help prevent dehydration.

If your skin blisters, then you have to treat it as a second-degree burn. Dermatologists recommend leaving blisters untouched as they help the skin heal and protect it from infection. You should avoid additional sun while your skin heals. If you have chills, fever or a headache, or if the blisters cover a large area, you should seek medical care.

Using sunscreen may decrease your skin’s production of Vitamin D. If you are concerned that you are not getting enough Vitamin D, you can discuss options with your doctor. He may recommend using a Vitamin D supplement.