Protect Your Skin While Enjoying the Sunshine

Protect Your Skin While Enjoying the Sunshine

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  But that won’t make you feel any better about it if you’re told you may have it. Most skin cancers are highly treatable when found early. But, again, the best news is that you can take steps to prevent them.

That involves protecting your skin and being on the lookout for skin changes.

The Skin Cancer Foundation says self-exams are a key to early detection. What you’re looking for are changes on your skin.

  • Look for any new moles or growths
  • Look for any older ones that have started to grow or change
  • Look for a lesion that itches, bleeds or doesn’t heal

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. So, doctors suggest two special strategies so that you are on the lookout for it: the ABCDEs   and the Ugly Duckling sign.

Possible signs that a mole could be melanoma include:

  • A and B: Look for Asymmetry and irregular Borders, meaning a mole has changed to an irregular, non-circular shape or a less distinct edge between the mole and rest of your skin.
  • C: Any change in Color is also important. Many melanomas are black or brown, but they can also be skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue or white.
  • D: The size of a mole, or Diameter, is also key. Any mole larger than a pencil eraser may be a worry.
  • E: Everyone’s skin changes, or Evolves, over time. But see your doctor if you notice a new mole with these traits or changes in an existing one.

The Ugly Duckling sign means looking for something that is different. It might be one mole that is different than those around it. It might be larger or darker. It’s a sign to bring that to your doctor’s attention.

Protect Your Skin from UV Exposure

Melanoma is caused mainly by intense, occasional UV exposure (often leading to sunburn), especially in those who are genetically predisposed to the disease. It’s important to protect your skin when you’re in the sun and skip tanning beds.

Just one blistering sunburn as a child or teen more than doubles your risk for melanoma. Everyone over 6 months old should follow these guidelines from the American Academy of Dermatology

  • Choose sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30 or higher, is water resistant, and provides broad-spectrum protection.
  • Apply sunscreen generously before going outdoors. It takes about 15 minutes for your skin to soak up the sunscreen and protect you.
  • Apply sunscreen to all bare skin. Remember your neck, face, ears, legs and the tops of your feet. For hard-to-reach areas like your back, ask someone to help or use a spray sunscreen. If you have thinning hair, either apply sunscreen to your scalp or wear a wide-brimmed hat. To protect your lips, apply a lip balm with a SPF of at least 15.
  • Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours. And reapply right away after swimming or heavy sweating.
Sources: Basic Information About Skin Cancer  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022; Melanoma Warning Signs  Skin Cancer Foundation, 2021; Prevent Skin Cancer,   American Academy of Dermatology Association

Originally published 7/8/2015; Revised 2019, 2022