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Health Column


By Salvador Quiroz


The Sun Versus Our Skin


Hospital H+ recently hosted a presentation by Dr. Blanca Farías on skin cancer, directed toward the general public. Dr. Farías, or “Doctora Blanca” as her patients know her, is a board-certified dermatologist in San Miguel de Allende and a consultant in that field for the hospital. In this article, I will try to provide a brief summary of the highlights in her talk.

One of the many blessings we have in San Miguel is our sun. It is usually shining and inviting us to bask in its rays in the Jardín, near a pool, in our garden, or while practicing our favorite sport. But without the necessary precautions or the sufficient knowledge of its potential dangers, this good friend can become our enemy. For some years now, the medical profession has been diagnosing more and more cases of skin cancer, to the point where this is an important topic in medical schools. The rising number of skin cancer cases in the general population is due to the destruction of the ozone layer and the ease of travel nowadays that makes it easier for Eskimos to go to Acapulco, to the mass publicity from sunscreen manufacturers, to greater participation in outdoor sports, and perhaps to the fact that a dark tan in fair-skinned people is attractive to members of the jet set!

What many people do not know is that sun damage by ultraviolet radiation is cumulative and time-dependent. In other words, the radiation effects never go away and continue to accumulate with more exposure. This is true, not only for the amount of sun exposure we experience in daily living but for those long or short periods of sunbathing. Be aware that the sun is more damaging when at its zenith in the summer and closer to the equator.

There are predisposing factors that increase the possibility of damage to the skin by sun exposure. These are the presence in your skin of old scars, burns, vaccinations, radiation treatments and chronic ulcerative lesions. The most important factor, however, is genetic. This factor involves your family history (history of cancer) but, most importantly, the type of skin you inherited. Basically, there are six types of skin. Select yours:


1. Always burns, never tans.

2. Usually burns, sometimes tans.

3. Sometimes burns, sometimes tans.

4. Never burns, always tans.

5. Moderate pigmentation (brown skin).

6. Marked pigmentation (black skin).


Because after reading these lines we are not going to spend the rest of our lives indoors trembling with fear of skin cancer, and because basking under the sun is one of life’s privileges, be advised of the following preventive measures:

a. Avoid prolonged sun exposure.

b. Protect yourself with a hat or cap.

c. Use sunscreen or sunblock. The effect of these creams may last up to five hours.

d. Have your physician or dermatologist check any suspicious lesion of the skin, especially those lasting more than three weeks.


Dr. Salvador Quiroz, Internal Medicine and Kidney Disease, Mayo Clinic. Tel: 152 2329.


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