Enjoying hours outside – regardless of the activity – is one of the true treasures of summer. But with the pleasure comes the pain – the vital organ that is your skin can only take so much sun. How do you keep it thriving all your plans for trips to the lake?
It’s not easy – but not impossible. Focusing on facts can help – and the No. 1 fact is ultraviolet rays (UV) can cause skin cancer and premature aging. The second fact to consider is that one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer. You can still have fun and avoid skin cancer risks this summer. So we’ll start with three simple steps towards a great summer skin. Valerie Flynn, MD, Avera dermatologist, shares a few tips:
The Numbers Game: Sun protection factor rates, such as SPF 30, are much more important than the scent or the colors on the bottle. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends an SPF of 30 or higher. Put “more sunscreen” on your shopping list today – it’s an easiest way to have healthy skin all summer long. Typical sunscreen products come in containers which average between 3-5 ounces. Each application should be an ounce (the amount in a shot glass) you need to reapply every two to four hours and more when you’re swimming. So either go big – with SPF 50 products or higher – or plan on buying more – and using it up!
Dress for Health and Time Your Sun: Another tool in the kit to stop skin cancer is proper clothing, which keeps your skin cooler and stops those rays. Look for UV-ray protective tops and shorts, light-colored, light-weight with long sleeves. Don’t forget your sunglasses – and wear long pants if you’re going to be out for a while. The damaging rays of the sun are at their worst between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. so avoid the sun during that time and until 4 p.m. if you can.
Be Smart about Spots: All skin cancers pose a threat, and while basal and squamous cell skin cancers are more common and less serious than melanoma, any skin-cancer concerns should lead you directly to your doctor’s office. It’s always best to get it checked. We all have small discolorations, or spots, on our skin, but look out for ones that appear to differ from all of the other spots on your skin. The easy-to-remember key is “ABCDE” which helps all of us find skin cancer. Those signs are:
- A for Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
- B for Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
- C for Color: The color is not the same all over and may include different shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
- D for Diameter: The spot is larger than about ¼ inch – the size of a pencil eraser; but remember, some melanomas can be smaller.
- E for Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.
Talk to your doctor whenever you see any of the above, or other warning signs like sores that do not heal, pigment that spreads, redness, especially when it is new, swelling beyond the mole’s edge, itchiness or pain. Schedule an appointment for any lump or bump, especially if it oozes or is tender – and new.
Healthy summer skin is possible. Use sunscreen, the proper clothing, and see a doctor if you notice any of the ABCDE signs. Another great idea? Love the skin tone you have, as it is. Regardless of your skin tone, be happy with what you have, and avoid indoor and outdoor tanning. It can go a long way towards avoiding skin cancer.