How to Prevent Skin Cancer

Noted dermatologist Nicholas Perricone, author of The Wrinkle Cure, gives these skin cancer prevention tips so you can prevent skin cancer year-round.

Dr. Perricone, an assistant professor at Yale University, is an expert on preserving and restoring the skin through nutrition and lifestyle changes.


Q:  Is skin cancer on the rise?

A:  Yes. Melanoma is a big problem — and growing. Just to put it into perspective: in 1938, 1 in 10,000 people got melanoma. Today, it's 1 in 93. The connection between sun exposure and skin cancer is well documented. For example, we know that the risk for melanoma goes up greatly even if you have one or two blistering sunburns in your younger years. We also know that people who get little exposure to the sun and then go outside are at greater risk of melanoma than people who work outdoors.

Q:  What's causing the increase in skin cancer?

A:  It's controversial. There's not a lot of data. Most of the evidence is circumstantial. For example, we know that inflammation throughout the body is the basis of a number of diseases. It's the basis of wrinkling and skin cancer. But foods like fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidants (vitamins C, E, etc.) and fatty acids (i.e. salmon, mackerel, olive oil) decrease this inflammation and thereby reduce the risk of skin cancer and other diseases like heart disease and Alzheimer's. People who eat this way fare better overall than people who do all the wrong things.

Q:  Are all skin types susceptible to skin cancer?

A:  Yes, the sun is damaging regardless of skin type. It temporarily destroys your body's ability to protect your skin. In fact, sunscreen offers a false sense of security. While I still recommend it — there's evidence to show that sunscreen lowers the incidence of skin cancer — there are other things you can do to protect your skin from the sun's damaging rays.

Q:  What are those things?

A:  It may not be widely known that if you take vitamins C and E your skin is less likely to be damaged by the sun. The sun creates free radicals, which wreak havoc on your cells and set you up for diseases like skin cancer. Vitamins help offset these free radicals. In just 30 to 45 minutes the sun depletes 80% of our vitamin stores. I tell my patients to take 500 mg of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin E, 100 mg of alpha lipoic acid and 30 mg of coenzyme Q10 (all are available at health-food and vitamin stores). In addition, I tell them to put on antioxidant cream. There's plenty of evidence that if you take vitamins orally, they still get depleted in the sun. When you apply a topical, you get a 100 times higher level of the vitamin and it won't get depleted. But even this protection doesn't give you a ticket, for example, to sit out in the sun.

Q:  Many people are skeptical about the ability of vitamin supplements to do anything at all — let alone help to protect and enhance the skin. What do you say to these folks?

A:  Since life is terminal — and if there seems to be a therapy that's not expensive — and not harmful — you have a moral obligation to tell your patients about this. The more alternative-oriented, complementary physicians understand this.

Q:  If your skin has been damaged by the sun over the years, can it regenerate itself, so to speak?

A:  There's plenty of evidence that if you avoid sun exposure for two years that the skin has a tremendous ability to protect itself.

Q:  But that's unrealistic, don't you think?

A:  Of course, but I believe that a three-tiered program of adequate protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, elimination of alcohol and tobacco and use of topical antioxidants can make a huge difference in your ability to protect and preserve your skin.

Visit Dr. Perricone's web site to learn more about skin cancer and skin care.