According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year than all other cancers combined. But even though cancer is literally everywhere, when we do apply sunscreen — which should be every single day — we may miss protecting some important features. “Areas that are often missed during sunscreen application include the eyelids, the frontal hairline and the lips,” says Rachel Nazarian, M.D., a New York-based dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group.
And recently, one of those areas has gained a lot of press: the eyelids. With SPF eyeshadow circling the beauty market, it begets a few questions, with a major one leading the pack: Can you develop skin cancer on the eyelids?
In short, yes. “The eyelids receive a huge amount of cumulative radiation over the years and can develop skin cancer like anywhere else on the body. Because many people fail to apply their sunscreen to this delicate area, skin cancers [are] often found on the upper eyelids,” Nazarian says.
She mostly sees two forms of nonmelanoma skin cancer on the eyelid: basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Over 4 million cases of BCC are diagnosed each year, and while BCC tends to not metastasize (or spread), it is still dangerous. On the other end of the spectrum, SCC is the second most common form of skin cancer (around 1 million diagnosed each year). But if SCC grows, it can be deadly.
Having sunscreen in our makeup offers such little protection that it shouldn’t be considered sunscreen at all.
The surgery to remove both BCC and SCC is often performed by a specialized surgeon called a Mohs surgeon, says Nazarian — eyelids are cosmetically sensitive and have a lack of excess tissue. “They use a technique called ‘Mohs,’ which is tissue sparing, so they only take the minimum amount of skin necessary to cure the cancer. Although the surgery does result in a scar, the outcome is generally cosmetically quite favorable,” she adds.
So, what about the SPF eyeshadow? Is this the product we needed? Nazarian says no. “Having sunscreen in our makeup, including eyeshadow, offers such little protection that it shouldn’t be considered sunscreen at all,” she adds. “Most people are not applying a thick enough amount of the makeup to achieve the marketed SPF on the label — remember that these ingredients need to be applied 2mg/cm2 [two milligrams of sunscreen per centimeter squared of skin] to achieve the intended SPF.”
I understand if your heart just broke a little, too. It seems like the easiest solution — but it’s not. “The protection [SPF in makeup] offers is so minimal, it should not be considered protection,” she says. “Applying sunscreen under your makeup and eyeshadow is a more effective method of protection against skin cancer.”
Since the eye area is delicate, Nazarian suggests reaching for SPF that is free of alcohol and parabens. And if you are trying to decide between chemical or physical — chemical sunscreen converts UV rays into heat whereas physical reflects and blocks the radiation — Nazarian says to stick with a physical sunscreen around the eyes. “I find physical blockers to cause less irritation in this sensitive area,” she adds.
And while SPF eyeshadow might be too good to be true, don’t let that keep you from protecting your skin. Applying sunscreen daily should be a simple (and conscious) decision. “It is one of the easiest ways we can reduce ultraviolet radiation damage to our skin, and minimize the chances of developing skin cancer,” Nazarian says.
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