Skin Cancer Awareness Month, which goes on all through the month of May, is a health initiative aimed at informing the public about skin cancer risk factors, early signs, prevention strategies, treatment options, and more. The importance of this campaign cannot be overstated, as skin cancer remains one of the most prevalent, yet simultaneously most preventable, diseases in the U.S. Knowing which behaviors may increase or decrease your risk of a skin cancer prognosis is key to keeping your skin and body safe and healthy. With that in mind, let’s go over five important tips for protecting yourself from skin cancer.
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which is naturally emitted by the sun, is the primary cause of skin cancer. Of course, sunlight is also necessary for our survival and yields several physiological benefits as well, triggering the production of vitamin D and serotonin in our bodies, for instance. But too much exposure to sunlight can quickly lead to sun damaged skin, as the energy of UV radiation can damage the DNA of skin cells. Your first defense mechanism against skin cancer, then, is limiting your sun exposure, especially between 10 A.M. and 4 P.M. when the sun’s rays are most powerful. This doesn’t mean you have to hide in a dark, windowless cave during the day -- just that you should seek shady areas when outdoors and take some breaks by going inside intermittently.
Even if you’re only outside for a bit and/or the clouds are covering the sun, keep in mind that some UV rays will still get through and reach your body. For additional protection against skin cancer, you’ll want to guard your skin against this radiation throughout the year, even during the winter. One way to do this is by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen each day. You’ll want to use a product with an SPF of at least 15 when staying inside, and no less than 30 when spending prolonged periods outside (it’s also good to use a waterproof sunscreen if you plan on swimming or are prone to sweating). Doing so will help block the sun’s harmful rays before they can damage your skin.
If you really want to keep sunlight from reaching your skin, you might also wear protective clothing, especially when staying outdoors for a while. Wearing white and lighter colors will naturally reflect light and will help keep you cool (darker colors absorb sunlight and quickly heat up). Protective clothing includes light long-sleeved shirts and pants, close-toed shoes, wide-brimmed hats, and UV-blocking sunglasses. While you should also apply sunscreen when wearing protective clothing, make sure that at the very least any exposed parts of your skin (i.e. ears, nose, hands, etc.) are thoroughly coated.
While many people like the way their skin looks with some extra color, tanned skin indicates damaged skin. And in places that don’t receive a lot of sunlight, tanning booths are popular places for people to get a tan. Whether by sunlight or UV lamps, bombarding your skin with UV radiation greatly increases your risk of developing skin cancer. At the very least, doing so will prematurely age your skin, leading to wrinkles and discoloration. So, for the sake of your long-term health and appearance, stay away from tanning beds, and don’t try to tan in the sun either.
Even if you strictly follow the steps above, you can still end up with skin cancer, especially if you have fair skin and/or a family history of skin cancer. This is why it’s so important for everyone to check their bodies for early signs of skin cancer on a regular basis. In addition to performing your own mole evaluations about once a month, you should also meet with your dermatologist every one or two years for a more thorough examination. Receiving these routine skin cancer screenings is essential to catching skin cancer at its early stages, which greatly increases the effectiveness of treatment and excision.
This May, re-establish your commitment to protecting yourself from skin cancer. Here at Premier Dermatology Partners, we will continue to help our patients take steps to keep their skin as healthy as it can be. To learn more about our mission, providers, and all the services we offer, contact us today.