Skin safety: Protecting your skin protects your health
Most skin cancers are a direct result of exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry about skin protection on overcast days or think that tanning beds are a safe alternative.
The most common types of skin cancer — basal and squamous cell cancers — are most likely to appear on areas of the body that get more exposure to the sun. And having had a serious sunburn in the past puts you at greater risk, which is why it’s so important to protect your children.
- Basal cells: Cells in the skin’s lower layer that divide to form new cells and eventually rise to the surface, becoming squamous cells
- Squamous cells: Flat cells on the surface of your skin that are shed as new cells move up from the basal layer
Cancers in either of these layers occur when sun damage causes cells to grow out of control. Luckily, they’re easy to treat if detected early. Check your skin at least once a month in a well-lit room, using a hand-held mirror for areas that are hard to see. Basal and squamous cell cancers can look like a variety of marks on the skin. Call your doctor if you notice a new spot that is getting larger over time or a sore that doesn’t heal within a few weeks.
The ABCDEs of moles
Melanoma is a less common but more serious type of skin cancer that starts in the cells that form moles. Although it can grow anywhere on your body, it most often develops in areas that have been exposed to the sun. The average age for diagnosis is 63. But melanoma is not uncommon among those younger than 30. In fact, it’s one of the most common cancers in young adults — especially young women. And melanoma is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths overall. But if detected early, it can be treated successfully.
The ABCDE warning signs to look for in moles are:
- Border irregularity
- Color that is not uniform
- Diameter larger than 6 millimeters
- Evolving size, shape or color
Sun protection: It’s not just a summer thing
Staying in the shade when you’re outdoors is the best way to protect yourself from the sun’s UV rays. But if you’re going to be in the sun, be sure to wear sunscreen — no matter what the season — and make sure it’s a broad-spectrum product, meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Look for products with an SPF rating over 30 that contain mineral blockers like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
You might also consider wearing UPF clothing designed to protect your skin from the sun. Throw on a hat and don’t forget your sunglasses — then enjoy the great outdoors without worrying about damage that can cause trouble later.