As summer rolls in and temperatures increase, you probably can’t wait to spend more time outside, basking in the sun. But since exposure to UV radiation from sunlight is a major risk factor for skin cancer, you need to be careful.
Protecting yourself from skin cancer really boils down to three strategies: sunscreen, sunglasses, and skin checks. Here are a few more details to make sure you’re implementing each strategy properly.
The American Academy of Dermatologists recommends that every person, of every age, wears sunscreen whenever they plan to spend time outside — even on cloudy days. UV radiation still passes through the clouds. Apply your sunscreen to all areas of exposed skin 15 minutes before going outside, and reapply sunscreen every two hours while outdoors.
With hundreds of sunscreen products on store shelves, here are some tips to help you choose the best one:
- Choose a product that offers SPF 50 or higher.
- Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays; both can cause skin cancer.
- Use cream formulas for your face and for dry skin.
- Use gel formulas on areas covered by body hair.
There are two basic types of sunscreen: physical and chemical. Chemical sunscreens contain an active ingredient such as oxybenzone or octinoxate, and they penetrate skin without leaving a residue. Physical sunscreens contain zinc or titanium oxide and remain on the surface of your skin. Although they may leave a residue, they are less irritating to sensitive skin. Both types are safe and effective.
Stick-style sunscreens are safe and easy to apply around the eyes. However, most people, even if they intend to do so, do not apply sunscreen to their eyelids and to the delicate skin around their eyes. Sunglasses can better protect the eyelids and the delicate skin around the eyes in a more reliable manner.
Make sure you choose sunglasses that block 100 percent of UV rays; many fashionable sunglasses sold in department stores do not. Glasses with larger lenses and wrap-around style glasses do a better job of preventing UV rays from sneaking in around the edges.
If you don’t like wearing dark sunglasses, that’s okay —lighter lenses can still block 100 percent of UV rays. Choose a pair that feels and looks good on your face so you’re motivated to wear them more often.
- Skin Checks
The earlier skin cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat. Your skin care physician may also wish to remove precancerous lesions rather than risk them turning cancerous later on. By checking over your skin regularly — the American Cancer Society recommends doing so once a month — you can ensure cancerous and precancerous lesions do not go unaddressed.
Check over your skin when standing in front of a full-length mirror. Have your partner or a close friend examine areas you cannot see, or use a hand mirror to assist you. If you spot any new moles, bring them to the attention of your physician.
Also note any moles or patches that are asymmetrical, have an irregular border, have an inconsistent color, are more than 1/4 inch across, or that change in size or shape.
Keep in mind that skin cancer can present itself in multiple ways. Basal cell carcinoma may appear as flat, scar-like lesions, pink growths with a raised edge, or itchy red patches. Squamous cell carcinomas may present as rough or crusty patches, open sores, or wart-like growths.
Always err on the side of caution and bring any suspicious spot to the attention of your doctor; you may find out that it’s nothing to worry about.
Rely on sunscreen, sunglasses, and skin cancer screenings to protect yourself from skin cancer this summer and throughout the seasons. If you’ve discovered any worrisome lesions, contact Stellis Heath to make an appointment with one of our knowledgeable physicians. Our Medical Skin Care Center performs full body skin exams to screen for skin cancer and evaluates spots on the skin that are changing or look suspicious.