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Safeguard Your Skin

Although skin cancer is the most common of all cancers and strikes one in five people in the United States, there is an upside: Preventive measures can be taken—and they work.

Sun Safety Tips

1. Wear Sunscreen

The biggest step you can take to prevent skin damage is to protect your skin from the sun’s UV (ultraviolet) rays, which can still be harmful even on overcast days. There are two types of UV light—UVA and UVB. While UVB is responsible for burns as well as skin damage, UVA rays penetrate more deeply into the skin and cause many of the signs of aging as well as skin cancers. This is why it is important to wear sunscreen even on cloudy days—the UVA rays are able to still cause damage without the burning effect. Avoid unneces­sary sun exposure during the peak hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

A common myth is that certain races or ethnicities don't need to worry about skin cancer, but this is not true. For example, 4-5% of cancers in Hispanics, 2-4% of cancers in Asians, and up to 2% of cancers in African Americans are skin cancers, which means everyone needs to take proper precautionary measures.

Buy sun­screen with the highest protection at the lowest cost. Wear at least SPF (sun protection fac­tor) 30 sunscreen, and apply it, liberally, uniformly and frequently. Many people do not wear enough sunscreen. An application for the entire body should be about the size of a golf ball (about one ounce). It should be applied about 30 minutes before going outside and reapplied every two hours. It should be reapplied every 60-90 minutes if you have been swimming or sweating extensively or if you used a spray formulation rather than a cream. You should still follow these reapplication guidelines even if the formula says it is waterproof or water resistant. Pay special attention to the areas of your body that are most exposed. The head, neck, arms, legs and back of hands are most susceptible to skin damage. You should also pay attention to common areas that people forget—ears, feet, and the top of the head for people with baldness or thinning hair. Remember to also use lip balm with an SPF of 30.

2. Cover Up

Dressing for sun protection is also important. Choose clothes with dark colors, tight weaves, long sleeves and pant legs. You could also consider buying SPF-rated clothing—this is clothing designed for sun protection due to the special weave of its fabric. Opt for wide-brimmed hats, too, and sunglasses that provide 100% UV protection.

3. Avoid Tanning

Another myth is that tanning is good for you. People will go out in the sun and come back with a "healthy glow." The truth is, this is not healthy. Any change in color to your skin after being out in the sun is a sign of sun damage. Tanning beds are one of the worst things you can do in regards to your future skin health. 

Monitor Moles and Blemishes

Monthly examination of your skin is another good preven­tion practice. Note the patterns of moles, freckles and other marks on your skin, and consult a physician if you notice any abnormality. Remember to look in oftentimes overlooked places as well such as the bottom of the feet and in between the toes.  Any darkening of the skin under the nails should also be evaluated by a dermatologist. The ABCD rule can be helpful in spotting an abnormal mole.

  • A (asymmetry): One half doesn’t match the other.
  • B (border): The edges are ragged or notched.
  • C (color): The color changes or isn’t the same all over.
  • D (diameter): The mole is wider than a pencil eraser (more than about 1/4 inch).

Get Your Skin Checked

If detected early, most skin cancers are curable and treated with surgical resection (removal of a tumor). 

Squamous and basal cell carcinoma are mainly caused by extensive sun exposure and usually appear as non-healing, irritated and reddish skin. They can also appear as shiny bumps or nodules.

Melanoma is also linked to chronic sun exposure, but genetics also play a role. People with a lot of moles on their skin may be at higher risk. Melanoma usually appears as an abnormal black or dark-brown blemish. It’s less common than squamous and basal cell carcinoma but much more aggressive. In its early stages, melanoma is treated with local resection. Once melanoma has spread, it is treated with chemotherapy and immunotherapy, but it is rarely cured.

If you have very fair skin, a significant amount of moles, or if you have a history of blistering sun burns in the past, you might want to consider establishing care with a dermatologist for a yearly skin check and to monitor your moles.

All things considered, skin damage is a very serious issue, yet the problem is avoidable. It is far better to be proactive and protect your skin: It could save your life. Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider for a skin check-up.

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