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The Doctor's Office

Skin Cancer Prevention From the Inside Out

Lisa Chipps, M.D., M.S., F.A.A.D.
Writer and expert4 years ago
View Lisa Chipps, M.D., M.S., F.A.A.D.'s profile
Woman sitting in the sun
You can’t discuss skin care without talking about protecting your skin from the damaging effects of exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light. Not only does UV protection help you elude wrinkles and other signs of sun damage, it also decreases your risk of certain cancers. However, is sunscreen enough? In this edition of our Doctor’s Office series, Dr. Lisa Chipps, board-certified dermatologist, shares what you can do—from using sunscreen to seeking clinical treatments and everything in between— to protect and improve your skin while also preventing skin cancer.

There’s no question that the sun’s UV light is one of the most damaging external factors affecting your skin. Unprotected exposure to UV rays can damage DNA in skin cells and lead to skin cancer, as well as to signs of premature aging.

However, while most people recognize the dangers of overexposure to the sun, know how important sun protection is and want to avoid sun damage, they just haven’t integrated preventative steps into their everyday lives.

I know this because I often see it in my practice. There is a noticeable difference in patients who have been good about sun protection and skin care throughout their lives and those who don't realize its importance until they're in their 40s or 50s and come to see me hoping to reverse years of damage. So, it is vital that you begin thinking about sun damage prevention now.

5 Steps to Healthier Skin

It is always easier to prevent the signs of sun damage and early signs of skin cancer than it is to try to undo damage that's already been done. However, while sunscreen is a very good start, sunscreen alone isn’t enough to protect your skin and overall health. There are five steps I recommend you take—from the inside out—to prevent skin cancer and achieve truly healthy skin.

1. Stick to a healthy diet.

Your body's ability to repair damage comes from the inside, and that starts with an overall healthy lifestyle. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and high in antioxidants is good not only for your skin, but also for your entire body. Avoid processed foods and make sure dark green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and kale, as well as citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruits are included in your daily diet. These foods contain nutrients that can help to reduce your risk of skin cancer by up to 50 percent and leave you with glowing, healthy skin.

2. Supplement with vitamin B3 (nicotinamide).

Vitamin B3, or nicotinamide, is good for the skin and can actually help prevent skin cancer. A recent study found that patients who have been previously diagnosed with basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers see enhanced DNA repair and decreased risk of future skin cancers by taking 500 milligrams of vitamin B3 twice daily. If you are already taking important steps to ensure you lead a healthy lifestyle, it makes sense to add vitamin B3 to your daily regimen to boost your skin’s DNA repair process while also potentially reducing your risk for skin cancer.

3. Choose skin care with DNA repair enzymes.

Sun exposure, pollution and the natural aging process damage our skin’s DNA on a daily basis, and this damage can eventually lead to pre-skin cancers or skin cancer. Luckily, you have repair mechanisms built into your body. When you get a mild sunburn, your body works to naturally heal itself with DNA repair enzymes. However, those repair enzymes only have so much capacity, and you slowly lose the ability to self-heal as you age. The good news is that you can boost your natural repair process with topical skin care that contains DNA repair enzymes derived from natural materials, such as algae and plankton. Using these products can help reverse damage to skin.

4. Wear sunscreen—always.

Early—and easy—prevention is the key to avoid signs of aging and skin cancers. Always wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher on all exposed skin. Zinc- and titanium-based sunscreens offer superior protection to chemical formulas because they protect against both UVA and UVB. However, chemical sunscreens are sometimes more elegant in their formulations and still offer effective sun protection. Find one you like and enjoy wearing—it should be a pleasure, not a burden. Additional good sun protection habits include seeking out shade when outdoors and wearing SPF-protective clothing and hats.

5. Repair damage with laser treatments.

Fractional erbium and carbon dioxide (CO2) laser resurfacing treatments reach the deeper layers of the skin to repair skin damage and remove pre-cancerous cells. Scarring, brown spots, uneven skin tone, wrinkles and fine lines can be improved as damaged cells are removed and replaced by healthy cells and collagen production is stimulated. Not only can these treatments improve your skin’s appearance, they can help to prevent skin cancer. The lasers vary in their intensity, and so you may require lighter treatments more often or more aggressive treatments less often, depending on the amount of sun damage to your skin.

Talk to your board-certified dermatologist if you have concerns about the appearance or health of your skin. Most important, start today to develop healthy skin care habits that work from the inside out to protect and improve your skin while also preventing skin cancer.

Dr. Lisa Chipps is a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in cosmetic surgery, Mohs micrographic skin cancer surgery, facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, laser skin treatments, liposuction and general and cosmetic dermatology. She practices in Beverly Hills, Torrance and Encino, California, at Moy-Fincher-Chipps Facial Plastics/Dermatology and is the director of dermatologic surgery at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. She is also on staff at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California.

Dr. Chipps has a special interest in skin cancer education and prevention, and she regularly volunteers for free skin cancer screenings through the American Academy of Dermatology, the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery and the Skin Cancer Foundation. She has received awards for her research in skin cancer and has published numerous studies in journals. She routinely speaks at national and international scientific meetings.