Protect your skin from damaging sun
While you are outside enjoying the weather this spring and summer, don’t take the health of your skin for granted. Increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and premature aging of the skin.
Exposure is a danger for everyone, but people with fair skin, light eyes, red or blond hair, and a history of burning are especially susceptible. People who are taking certain sun-sensitive medications such as antibiotics, birth control pills or some cosmetics should also be wary.
We don’t expect people to live in a cave. In fact, some sun exposure is necessary to maintain healthful levels of Vitamin D. Moderation is the rule, but if you start to burn you know you’ve overdone it. We want you to make protection a priority, especially if you are going to be out in the sun all day boating or swimming. Reflective surfaces such as water increase the risk of damage to your skin and eyes.
Ultraviolet radiation is especially intense at this time of year because the sun is at a more direct angle to the Earth. Peak sun hours occur between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when UV rays have the shortest distance to travel through the atmosphere. Even under cloudy skies, the sun can damage your skin.
Skin is the body’s largest organ. It protects muscle, bone and other organs; regulates body temperature; and enables you to feel sensations such as hot and cold, hard and soft, and pain and comfort.
Sun exposure damages the skin’s DNA (genetic material) and depresses your immune system. Its effect on the skin is similar to the effect of smoking on the lungs.
Indoor tanning and childhood burning are believed to be responsible for an alarming rise in melanoma cases, especially among young adults. Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer. Since 1970, the melanoma rates have increased eight-fold among women and four-fold among men, according to a recently published study by The Mayo Clinic. There is no such thing as a safe tanning bed.
Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas make up the vast majority of skin cancers and are highly curable when treated early. Melanoma is responsible for 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths because it is the type of skin cancer most likely to spread to other organs.
Most skin cancers can be treated with surgical excision or freezing. Treatment for malignant melanoma depends on what stage it has reached. Advances in medications and surgical techniques have greatly improved our treatment options, but prevention and early detection are the keys to combating skin cancer.
The most common sign of skin cancer is a new mole or skin lesion, or a change in an existing mole. When looking for a melanoma, think of the ABCD rule: asymmetry (irregular shape), border (ragged or blurry edges), color (moles with multiple colors) and diameter (greater than a pencil eraser).
Here are some tips we recommend to limit damage:
• Plan your outdoor activities in the morning or evening to avoid the sun’s strongest rays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
• Wear protective clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses that advertise 100 percent UVA and UVB protection.
• Use a sunscreen labeled “broad spectrum” and with a SPF factor of 15 or greater; liberally reapply every 40 minutes.
• If you have risk factors such as a lot of moles or a family history, seek a baseline evaluation from a dermatologist who can determine if you need regular screenings. Examine your skin monthly and contact your physician if you find a new or changing mole, bleeding mole, lesion, scaly patch or sore.
Dr. Timothy Moore is an oncologist and an active member of the Grady Memorial Hospital medical staff.