May is National Skin Cancer Awareness and Prevention Month, and with summer right around the corner, many are looking forward to enjoying the warm weather and spending more time outdoors. However, it’s important to protect our skin from potential harm from the sun. Elyn Bowers, MD, a dermatologist at Mercy Medical Group Midtown Dermatology in Sacramento, shared the following tips on reducing skin damage while enjoying those summer days.
Protecting Our Skin
Our skin is the largest organ on our body and we should actively think about protecting it, especially when outdoors. When you’re out in the sun for a long period of time and without the proper protection, not only are you susceptible to a painful sunburn, but you’re also increasing your risk of skin cancer. In fact, obtaining more than five sunburns can double your chances of developing skin cancer, so making a conscious decision to protect yourself from the sun is key.
One in Five Americans
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer across the US and around the world, and one in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime. Certain groups of people are predisposed to developing skin cancer, including those with fair skin tones and lighter physical traits (e.g, blonde hair or blue eyes), those with a family history of skin cancer and those who spend an excessive amount of time outdoors.
There are three major types of skin cancer:
- basal cell carcinoma (most common)
- squamous cell carcinoma (second most common)
- melanoma (less common, yet more dangerous)
Each of these skin cancer types should be taken seriously and any skin abnormalities should be brought to the attention of your doctor to check out.
Prevention and Detection
There are several steps you can take to reduce your risk of skin cancer, including:
- Applying daily sunscreen. Dr. Bowers recommends using a formula of SPF30 or higher and applying at least one full ounce to the entire body 30 minutes prior to going outside. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Covering up. Wear broad-brimmed hats to protect your scalp and sunglasses with UV protection for your eyes.
- Avoiding tanning. Tanning beds and lamps emit harmful levels of UVA and UVB rays and can severely damage skin. Similarly, you should avoid the use of tanning oils when in the sun.
Fortunately, unlike cancers that develop inside the body, skin cancer is usually visible. Early detection is critical and learning what to look for on your own skin gives you the power to seek treatment early on. If you see a mole or a patch of skin that has changed in color, shape or size, contact your doctor immediately. It may also be helpful to consider regular skin check ups or screenings, along with at-home exams. If you have any concerns about your skin or general health, please make an appointment to consult with your primary care doctor.