The season of summer vacations, pool parties, beach days as well as plenty of outdoor adventures is underway. Especially at this time of year, it’s important to know how you can protect yourself and your family from the damaging rays of the sun.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Most skin cancers are caused by cellular damage created by exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun or tanning beds. A person's risk for melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer – doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns. Moles, also known as nevi, are one type of the visible signs of sun damage to the skin.
So, how to you keep your skin protected and still enjoy all the fun that summertime offers? The best way is by taking a layered approach to keep your skin the healthiest it can be and slow the progression of photo aging skin. The American Cancer Society suggests several easy ways to decrease exposure to UV rays: Slip on a shirt, there are also many clothing companies that now manufacture SPF protection for added coverage. It is encouraged to also wear a wide- brimmed hat and sunglasses especially during 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when UV light is the strongest and apply sunscreen. Staying in the shade is also helpful.
We are often asked, “What is the best sunscreen? There are so many to choose from.” You should look for a broad spectrum sunscreen that contains an SPF 30-50 at a minimum, as this protects against 97 percent of the rays. You also want a product that is water resistant. Note that sunscreen is not waterproof. It is suggested to reapply every two hours or sooner especially after getting wet. Don’t forget any exposed areas of the scalp, rims of the ears and especially lips – there are SPF lip balms, too! Keep in mind for children, less than 6 months of age, keeping the skin covered and in full shade is optimal.
Although, it may be easy to bring out last year’s sunscreen for use, be sure to check the expiration date to avoid an unintended sunburn – it does lose its efficacy.
What does sunburn have to do with moles?
According to the American Academy of Dermatologists, when your skin tans or burns, it is a sign that your skin is being damaged by the sun’s ultraviolet rays. For those who like a good base tan, unfortunately, there is no safe way to tan with the sun. Your skin becomes red or dark from sunburn because the skin is increasing its production of melanin in an effort to protect the deeper layers of skin from the UV rays. This happens whether a person has light or dark skin.
Dermatologists have known for years that nevi are an indicator of a higher risk for melanoma or skin cancer. Having many nevi or some with atypical features, could signal a higher risk for melanoma skin cancer. One way that dermatologists evaluate nevi is using the ABCDEs of Melanoma. Asymmetry: Nevi that are not symmetrical or that are uneven could signal melanoma. Border: An irregular or poorly defined border could be a risk factor. Color: Varied colors in nevi could include white, black, red or blue, this also includes loss of pigment. Diameter: Melanomas are usually larger than a pencil eraser- approximately 6mm. Evolving: Some nevi can change over time such as itching, bleeding or acute change from other nevi.
Are you at risk for melanoma cancer? Those with 50 or more moles, large, or unusual moles have a higher risk. Moles that have more than one color, have changed, or quickly develop could signal melanoma.
Talk to your family. Do you have am immediate family member with melanoma? Those with red or blonde hair, or blue or green eyes could have a higher risk. Have you been diagnosed with melanoma or non-melanoma skin, or previous other type of cancer? Having other types of skin issues could mean a higher risk. Have you had exposure to sun or artificial tanning devices?
The easiest way to reduce your risk is to take protective measures, such as applying sun screen, wearing hats, using umbrellas and protective clothing, and to avoid the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. It is also recommended to avoid the tanning bed.
If the color, size, shape or height of a mole changes or if it starts to itch, bleed or ooze, talk to a doctor or dermatology provider. The healthcare provider may recommend removing the mole. It is important to do regular self-checks to determine if moles are changing.
Melissa Taylor, NP-C, sees patients with Dr. Daniel W. Cuozzo and Dr. Monte Meltzer, at Beebe Center for Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery in the Medical Arts Building at the Beebe Healthcare Campus, Rehoboth Beach on Route 24. For more information, call 302-645-4801.