Take Steps Now To Save Your Skin This Summer

Protecting skin from the summer sun

Take Steps Now To Save Your Skin This Summer - and for a Lifetime

Did you know that your skin is your body's largest organ? It performs many jobs. Your skin gives you a layer of protection from germs and injury. It has nerves that give you the sense of touch. And, it helps you keep a constant body temperature. So it's important to keep your skin healthy.

One of the biggest dangers to your skin's health is skin cancer. In fact, did you know that:

  • Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. More than 3.5 million cases are diagnosed every year.
  • Each year, there are more new cases of skin cancer than of breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancer combined.
  • One in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives.

The good news is, you can take steps to help protect yourself from skin cancer. But first, it's helpful to understand a little more about the disease.

The three types of skin cancer and how to spot them

There are three types of skin cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  1. Basal cell cancer. Basal cell cancers are often flesh-colored. They may look like a waxy bump, or a flat scar. Sometimes, they have a sore in the middle.
  2. Squamous cell cancer. This type of skin cancer may appear as a red bump, or a scaly, crusty patch. If you see anything like this on your skin, see your doctor.
    Both basal and squamous cell skin cancers are very curable.
  3. Melanoma. Melanoma shows up as a mole, a sore or a large brown spot with darker speckles. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says be on the watch for the ABCDEs of melanoma:
    • A is for asymmetry. One half does not match the other half.
    • B is for border irregularity. The edges may be uneven, ragged or blurred.
    • C is for color. It is not even. You may see different shades of tan, brown, or black. Dashes or red, white, and blue may also be there.
    • D is for diameter or distance from side to side. Melanoma is usually larger than six millimeters when diagnosed. That's about the size of a pencil eraser. Of course, the earlier you find it, the better.
    • E is for evolving. Watch for any mole or spot that is changing in size, shape or color.

What are the risk factors for skin cancer?

Anyone, from the fairest to the darkest-skinned, can get skin cancer. Everyone needs to be aware of it and to check themselves for new moles or changes to their skin. Still the CDC says some people are at greater risk for developing skin cancer, such as those with:

  • A lighter natural skin color
  • A family history of skin cancer
  • A personal history of skin cancer
  • Spending time in the sun — without protection — through work and play
  • A history of sunburns early in life
  • A history of indoor tanning
  • Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily or becomes painful in the sun
  • Blue or green eyes
  • Blond or red hair
  • Certain types and a large number of freckles

Some of these things, like eye color and family history, you can’t control. But others you can. And the most important thing you can do is protect yourself from the sun. Ninety percent of skin cancer occurs on parts of the body that are usually uncovered. These include the face, ears, neck, and hands.

Save your skin from the sun

Protecting your skin doesn't mean staying indoors. It just means taking smart steps. Here are tips from the American Cancer Society:

  • Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Stay in the shade, especially in the middle of the day, when the sun's rays are strongest. Practice the shadow rule and teach it to children. If your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun's rays are at their strongest.
  • Cover up with a shirt or other protective clothing to cover as much skin as possible. Choose comfortable clothes made of tightly woven fabrics.
  • Apply sunscreen. Use sunscreen and lip balm with an SPF number of 15 or higher. Apply a generous amount of sunscreen. Reapply it after swimming, toweling dry, or perspiring. Use sunscreen even on cloudy days.
  • Wear a hat. Cover your head with a wide-brimmed hat to shade your face, ears, and neck. If you choose a baseball cap, remember to protect your ears and neck with sunscreen.
  • Remember your sunglasses. Wear sunglasses with 99% to 100% UV protection.
  • Protect your skin even on cloudy or overcast days. UV rays travel through clouds.
  • Avoid other sources of UV light, such as tanning beds and sun lamps.

Keep in mind, too, that some medicines can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. These include some antibiotics, as well as some diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure medicine.

What are UV rays?

UV is short for "ultraviolet." UV rays are types of light rays that come from the sun, tanning booths and sunlamps. Light rays called UVA are the ones that age your skin. UVB rays are the ones that can burn it. Both are linked to skin cancer.

What does SPF mean?

SPF stands for "sun protection factor." It looks at how long it takes for your skin to begin to burn with — and without — protection.. Say your skin usually begins to get red after 10 minutes in the sun. An SPF of 15 should let you to stay out 15 times longer, or 150 minutes. But very few people use enough sunscreen to give them the best protection. Be sure to put on at least a palmful 15 minutes before you go into the sun. Put on more sunscreen often, as noted in the list above.

Which sunscreen should you choose?

It can be hard to choose the right sunscreen when there are so many. Here are some:

  • Pick one that doesn't rinse off easily with water and sweat.
  • Choose one that protects from both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Choose an SPF of 15 or higher. The higher the number, the greater the protection.
  • Pick a sunscreen you like and you'll probably use it regularly.

Stay away from tanning beds

Every time you tan, you damage your skin. The American Academy of Dermatology stresses that there is no safe way to tan. Skin damage builds up over time. Tanning beds give off the same UVA and UVB rays as the sun, and sometimes in higher levels.

Government health experts agree. UV radiation from the sun, and sources such as tanning beds and sun lamps, cause cancer.

If you want to look tan, use a self-tanner. But be sure to use a sunscreen with it.

Check your birthday suit on your birthday

Check your skin regularly. The AAD says look over your whole body, including back, scalp, palms, sole, and between your toes. An easy way to remember your skin check is to do it every year on your birthday.

See your doctor right away if you find anything unusual. Remember the ABCDEs and get checked every year by a skin doctor, or dermatologist.

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