Dr. Ileana Alfaro, TheCostaRicaNews.com

Nowadays, skin cancer is taking first place in frequency around the world. The three types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. The most common types are the basal cell carcinoma and the squamous cell carcinoma, which, fortunately, do not kill the patient if treated early. Melanoma is more dangerous, but less frequent.

Melanoma in adults might be preventable by avoiding UV light exposure and with the regular use of sunscreen — that is, with the daily application to the head, neck, arms, and hands, according to Australian researchers who conducted a rare randomized controlled trial of sunscreen use.

This randomized study included 1621 adults in Queensland — a region with the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. A group of patients were instructed to use sunscreen regularly, another group used it discretionary and another did not use it at all. The regular application of sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 15 or more used during a 5-year treatment period reduced the incidence of new primary melanomas during a subsequent 10-year follow-up period (reported by the study authors who were led by Adele Green, MB BS, PhD, from the University of Queensland in Brisbane).

This trial’s findings are the first to provide strong evidence for a reduction in the incidence of invasive melanoma after regular application of broad-spectrum sunscreen in adults. These results reassure what dermatologists around the world recommend in daily practices – using SPF 30 sunscreen and reapplying it every three hours. Reapplication is also advised after heavy sweating and bathing.

The study findings are not limited to Australians; they also have implications for white people living in temperate climates around the world. People with blond hair, blue or green eyes, fair skin, freckles, a tendency to sunburn, or a lot of moles might have an increased risk for melanoma.

These latest findings should not be an excuse to drop other sun protection practices. Excess exposure to ultraviolet rays should be avoided, sun exposure in Costa Rica from 10am to 3pm should be avoided, clothing should be used to shield skin from the sun, sunglasses with a 400nm UVA UVB protection should be used to shield the eyes, and sun-safe environments should be used for outdoor recreation.

You can find several good brands and numerous types of sunscreens in the Costa Rican market.

For the face, you have to remember to choose one that works with your skin type:

  • For all skin types, non-greasy and hypoallergenic, you can buy Avene Spray 50 (office dispensing), Heliocare gel 50 (office dispensing), Anthelios Extra fluid AC (pharmacy), Ansolar gel or pearls (office dispensing and pharmacies).
  • For acne prone skin, you can find Heliocare gel 90, which also has treatment for acne (office dispensing), Anthelios Extra fluid AC (pharmacy), Ansolar pearls (office dispensing and pharmacies).
  • For dry skin, you can buy Avene High Protection Cream 50 (office dispensing), Heliocare Spray (office dispensing), Ansolar lotion (office dispensing and pharmacies), Umbrella Plus which also has antioxidants (pharmacies).
  • For those of you that prefer sunscreen integrated in makeup, you can find Avene compact 50 (Office dispensing and pharmacies) and Heliocare compact 50 (office dispensing).

For the body during your normal daily routines, you can use any sunscreen that you are comfortable with, like Avene Spay 50. Other brands for the body that are available in Costa Rica and have the Skin Cancer Foundation seal of recommendation are: Hawaiian Tropic, Banana Boat, NO-AD, and Coppertone.

For those of you who practice sports, the best rated sunscreens are Umbrella Waterproof (pharmacies), Anthelios W (pharmacies), Heliocare gel 50 (office dispensing), Ansolar gel or lotion (office dispensing and pharmacies).

In regards to the use of sunscreen in children, please remember that children under 1 year old should not be in the sun, and babies under 6 months old should not wear sunscreen. The best sunscreens for children are Eucerin Kids 25 (pharmacies), Umbrella Kids (pharmacies), Anthelios Kids (pharmacies), Avene High Protection Cream 50 (office dispensing).

Photos by earthlydelights, smcgee, and Dennis S. Hurd.