The 3 Types of Skin Cancer and How to Prevent Sun Damage

As summer comes to an end, many of us are (reluctantly) packing up our beach chairs and sun hats for next summer. We’re trading in glorious days out in the sun for more movie nights and entire days spent indoors at school or work. 

While the summer fun may be coming to a halt, it’s important to recognize that the great big star in the sky - our sun - continues shining its UV rays onto us, which in turn causes about 80% of skin cancers.

Skin cancer is a terrifying, yet very real concern. It is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S., with around 100,000 diagnoses made a year. It’s important to stay knowledgeable about methods of prevention so you can stay healthy and cancer-free. 

So let’s dive into the different types of skin cancers there are, skin damage and prevention, and one of our favorite topics—sunscreen.

What are the 3 types of skin cancer?

While there are several types of skin cancer, the following three types of skin cancer account for the most commonly diagnosed annually:

1. Basal Cell Carcinomas

  • This is the most frequently occurring type of skin cancer with more than 3 million cases diagnosed each year. When caught and treated early, basal cell carcinomas can cause minimal damage. Regardless, it should be addressed as soon as possible to prevent damage.
  • BCCs can look differently depending on the person, but can appear as open sores, pink growths, red patches, scars, growths, shiny bumps and more. (We suggest Google image searching based on your skin color to see how they can appear.)
  • This type of skin cancer rarely spreads from the original tumor site, though it can be disfiguring if left untreated and allowed to grow.

2. Squamous Cell Carcinomas

  • This is the second most common form of skin cancer that takes place. When caught early, these tumors are also curable.
  • Caused by UV radiation and other damaging agents, they most often occur in sun-exposed parts of the body though they can also occur in other areas, such as the genitals.
  • Like basal cell carcinomas, they come in a variety of forms and look different on everyone, but often appear as open sores, red patches, rough and raised skin, and more.

3. Melanoma

  • While much less common than the aforementioned skin cancers, melanoma is one of the most dangerous due to its ability to spread to other organs if not treated in time.
  • Melanoma occurs when the skin has been exposed to UV radiation from the sun and damages the skin’s DNA resulting in uncontrolled cellular growth.
  • There are four different types of melanoma that can occur, appearing in various  parts of the body depending on the person.

How long can skin cancer go untreated?

This depends on the type of skin cancer and the individual’s case, but the rule of the thumb is that the earlier you catch it, the better. 

  • With basal cell carcinoma, while it is slow-growing, it can still cause extensive damage if left untreated. 
  • Similarly, squamous cell carcinoma can cause damage if left untreated for too long. 
  • Melanoma, while less common, is significantly more dangerous than the other two types of skin cancer due to its ability to rapidly spread to other organs.

Can your skin recover from sun damage?

No, unfortunately most forms of sun damage are irreversible. UV exposure can alter the DNA of your skin. However, there are ways to prevent further sun damage from occurring and keep your skin free of wrinkles, sun spots, melasma, and other manifestations of skin damage. If you see a new spot, mole, or any change in your skin, schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Does sunscreen prevent skin damage?

Sunscreen significantly reduces UV ray exposure which reduces the risk of you getting skin cancer. As a sweet additional benefit, wearing sunscreen also slows down the aging process caused by the sun and keeps your skin youthful and glowing.

Everyone – and we really mean everyone – should be wearing sunscreen daily. Regardless of whether you spend all day indoors, or are working outside all day, you are being exposed to the sun and its UV rays. 

Reducing your skin’s exposure to the sun as much as possible is also key in preventing sun damage. Wearing clothes that cover your skin, such as long-sleeved shirts and pants, will help protect your skin from the sun. 

Is zinc oxide sunscreen good for skin?

There are two types of sunscreen: physical and chemical sunscreens. Physical sunscreens, or mineral sunscreens, work by blocking and scattering UV rays before they penetrate your skin. 

Chemical sunscreens on the other hand function by absorbing UV rays before they cause damage to your skin. Both types of sunscreen are safe and effective, though you want to choose one that is comfortable and wearable enough to use daily.

Zinc oxide is a type of mineral-based sunscreen that blocks UV light. For people with sensitive skin or someone wanting a more natural sunscreen, zinc oxide sunscreens are essential in their skincare toolkit. 

One of the major downsides of physical sunscreens is the all too common whitecast, or the unblendable layer of sunscreen, that they can cause. While searching for a mineral sunscreen, you’ll want to look for an option that is lightweight and leaves a satin-y finish on your skin, like the Sdara Zinc Oxide Sunscreen.

Enhancing daily protection from sun exposure

You shouldn’t live in fear of sun damage, and we certainly don’t think it should stop you from doing the things you love. However, being conscious of how much UV exposure you’re getting, limiting your time in the sun, and wearing sunscreen will help keep you protected. 


Contributing Writer: Evan Neuhoff