Summer is right around the corner, and with it comes warmer, longer days
and weather that makes you want to get outdoors. But before lounging on
your deck with a cold beverage or launching into a full day of yardwork
under the sun, make sure you’re taking the proper precautions to
protect the skin you’re in.
Overexposing yourself to the sun can cause several problems—from
skin cancer to eye complications, age spots, and wrinkles. Skin cancer is the
most common of all cancers; each year in the U.S.,
more than 5.4 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer are treated in more
than 3.3 million people. Between 40 and 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will develop
nonmelanoma skin cancer at least once.
Skin Cancer Facts
Basal cell skin cancer is themost common form of skin cancer, with 4.3 million cases diagnosed
per year. It’s slow-growing, and most cases are caused by cumulative
sun exposure and sunburns. It develops in the deepest layer of the epidermis
(outer layer of the skin) in the basal cells, and it appears as dark pink
patches, shiny growths, or growths with ulceration. It rarely spreads
to other parts of the body, but it can destroy the surrounding tissue
and be disfiguring.
Squamous cell skin cancer is the second most common type of skin cancer, with 1 million diagnosed
cases each year. Primarily caused by UV radiation and occurring in the
squamous cells of the epidermis, squamous cell skin cancer presents itself
as red scaly patches, open sores, warty growths, or dark pink growths
with a central depression. In rare cases, it can spread to other organs
and results in approximately 15,000 deaths each year. Organ transplant
patients are 100 times more likely to develop this type of skin cancer
than the general population; however, sunscreen can reduce the risk of
this disease by 40 percent.
Melanoma is the third most common type of cancer for women under 49, and men under
49 have a higher probability of developing melanoma than any other cancer.Your
risk for melanoma doubles if you have had more than five sunburns. Only
30 percent of melanomas arise in an existing mole; the majority develop
in normal skin.
Actinic Keratosis, which is considered precancerous but can develop into squamous cell skin
cancer, can form as a pink scaly growth or a subtle patch that forms over
skin that has been chronically exposed to the sun.
Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare, aggressive type of skin cancer with a high risk of recurrence
and spreading. This type of cancer often arises on sun-exposed skin in
those over age 50.
When Should I See My Doctor?
Monthly skin self-exams are essential to knowing your skin and noticing
if anything has changed. Examine from your scalp to the soles of your
feet; learning your moles, blemishes, and freckles will help you keep
track of your skin’s changes over time and know if you should be
If you notice any problem areas or rapid changes, consult your doctor.
The key warning sign of
melanoma is a new spot or a spot that’s changed in
ABCDE rule to help you determine when to
make the call:
A is for Asymmetry: Look out for one half of a mole or birthmark that doesn’t match
B is for Border: Irregular, blurred, ragged, or notched edges can be a cause for concern.
C is for Color: If the color isn’t the same all over, or includes shades of brown
or black or patches of pink, red, white, or blue, tell your doctor immediately.
D is for Diameter: If the spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about ¼-inch
the size of a pencil eraser), it could be melanoma. However, melanomas
can be smaller than this.
E is for Evolving: The mole is changing in size, color, or shape.
Not all melanomas fit the ABCDE rule, so it’s important to tell your
doctor about any changes in your skin. Other warning signs of skin cancer
- A sore that doesn’t heal
- The spread of pigment from the border of the spot into the surrounding skin
- Redness or swelling beyond the border of the mole
- Change in sensation (itchiness, tenderness, or pain)
- Change in the mole surface
How to Love Your Skin This Summer (and Prevent Skin Cancer)
Skin cancer is a serious disease, but you don’t have to stay indoors
all summer. The proper precautions can go a long way in preventing sunburn,
precancerous growths, and ultimately, skin cancer.
Don’t Forget Sunscreen. Your mother was right—you need to slather on sunscreen before spending
the day outdoors. This is the number one preventative measure for sun
protection. Each morning, apply approximately one ounce of sunscreen to
your entire body. Aim for an SPF of 15 or higher for normal sun exposure,
but if you plan to be outside all day, reapply every two hours. Check out
this article for more tips on choosing the right sunscreen for you.
Stay in the Shade. When possible, hang out under an umbrella or tent, beneath a tree, under
a porch or awning, or any other shady spot. This is especially important
during peak hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays
are the strongest. Even when it’s cloudy, the sun can still damage
your skin—so take precautions even on overcast days. If you’re
doing yardwork and can’t escape the sun, make sure to wear sunscreen,
sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat if possible.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate. Drinking water frequently helps your body sweat, cool down, and avoid dehydration, so
make sure you drink plenty of water—that is, at least eight 8-ounce
glasses of water, and more if you’re outside for an extended period of time.
Exfoliate and Moisturize. Scrubbing away dead skin as often as possible helps your skin remain
healthy and strong, while preventing dryness and congestion. Opt for natural
exfoliators, like sugar-, coffee-, or oatmeal- based products, and apply
an FDA-approved moisturizer immediately afterwards. Consider using a moisturizing
sunscreen if you have especially dry skin.
Don’t Forget the Lips. Did you know the lips are a common site for skin cancer? Lip balm isn’t
just for moisture, it can help protect your lips from harmful rays. Applying
SPF 15 lip balm every two hours will help fully protect your lips, but
choose SPF 30 or higher if you have a history of skin cancer. Don’t
use high-shine lip gloss, Vaseline, or baby oil when you’re in the sun.
Change Up Your Summer Fashion. Your head and ears are vulnerable to the sun, so wear a hat (and don’t
forget to apply sunscreen to your ears, face, and neck!). Cover your eyes
with sunglasses—the bigger and darker, the better. Take extra precautions
when you’re near a reflective surface like water or sand.
Ditch the Tan. Using a tanning bed before age 35 increases your risk of melanoma by
75 percent. Stay away from tanning beds and sunlamps, but if you still
want that summer glow, consider sunless tanning products like lotions,
gels, and spray foams. Make sure to carefully read the labels and avoid
products not approved by the FDA.
Help your Skin Heal. Properly caring for a sunburn is important for your comfort and the healing
process—which can take several days. Take an over-the-counter pain
reliever if the pain or swelling is severe enough. A cold bath or clean
damp towel can also help your skin cool down. Apply moisturizer frequently
and drink lots of water. Perhaps most importantly, don’t pick or
peel your sunburn!
Practice Skin Safety for the Entire Family. Make sure your kids wear sunscreen while playing outside, as well as
proper clothing, sunglasses, and hats.
Save Your Skin
If you’re experiencing any of the signs or symptoms mentioned in
the previous section of this article, it’s important to
schedule an appointment with your primary care provider when possible. Frederick Health has a
wealth of resources on skin cancer symptoms as well as screening and treatment—check
out our resources