Skin Cancer and Melanoma Awareness Month

Cynthia Bailey, MD|May 15, 2012

It's May and, most likely, you’re being drawn outside by beautiful weather. The American Academy of Dermatology wants to be sure you get a reality check about sun damage and skin cancer before you risk getting more sun damage; so, they've designated May as Skin Cancer and Melanoma Awareness Month. Yes, long, languid days in the warm sun will cause permanent skin damage and, quite probably, even skin cancer if you’re not prepared and sun protected.   How do you enjoy the warm, sunny languid days without adding sun damage to your skin?  Here's what you need to know.

Dermatologist Recommended Sun Protection For 2012

Seek the shade always, but especially between 10 AM and 3 PM when the sun is strongest. Don’t ever let yourself sunburn. You double your risk for getting the potentially deadly melanoma type of skin cancer (The Big C) if you’ve had 5 or more sunburns in your lifetime. Cover up as much of your skin with clothing as possible. This means a broad-brimmed hat (not a ball cap or visor), UV-blocking sunglasses, and clothing that blocks the sun (made with cloth that's densely woven in either bright or dark colors, sun-protective clothing, or clothing treated with Sun Guard fabric treatment). Don't forget to cover your chest, arms, and legs when you're heavily sun exposed.

Click here to see Sun Guard Fabric Treatment.

Sunguard Fabric Treatment to make sun protective clothing

Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day on exposed skin (which is at least your face, neck, ears, chest, and the back of your hands). For sweaty or wet outdoor activity make sure your sunscreen is water-resistant. I always recommend zinc oxide mineral sunscreens and I’ve got a great collection of the best sunscreens for all skin types, activities, and product preferences.

Click here to see the sunscreens I use for my patients, myself, and my family.

dermatologist recommended sunscreens

Apply sunscreen correctly. Remember, your sunscreen won't work like you think it should if you don't apply it correctly.  The rule of thumb for how much sunscreen you should apply is 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body when you're in a swim suit. (Of course, my preference is that you wear a swim shirt and swim tights instead of a skimpy skin exposing swim suit.) Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure and reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating. Keep newborns and infants out of the sun. Sunscreens may be used on babies over the age of six months, but, like adults, they should also be sun protected with shade and clothing. Remember, the skin of children is very sensitive to ultraviolet radiation and, sadly, just one severe sunburn in childhood doubles the chances of them developing melanoma later in life. It’s a big deal and we adults are responsible for their sun protection! Avoid tanning and tanning booths. A tan is a sign of too much sun exposure and means you got enough UV to damage your DNA; it’s your skin’s feeble and inadequate attempt to protect itself. (Sad fact: people who make just four visits to a tanning salon per year can increase their risk for melanoma by 11 percent, and their risk for the two most common forms of skin cancer - basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma - by 15 percent.) Skin Exams Save Lives, So Get One May is also called Melanoma and Skin Cancer Detection Month because a skin exam could save your life. Examine your skin head-to-toe every month. Self-exams shouldn’t replace the important annual skin exam performed by your qualified physician but they’re still important. Many skin cancers are first detected during a person's self-exam done between their doctor visits. Get your partner or a close friend to help examine your back. Learn the early warning signs of skin cancer. Click the links below for the best teaching resources to help you learn what skin cancer looks like and how to do a really reliable job examining your own skin.

Remember, if you notice any change in an existing mole or discover a new skin growth that looks suspicious, see your doctor immediately. Get an annual full skin exam by your doctor. See your physician (ideally an expert in skin cancer detection such as a dermatologist) every year for a professional skin exam. If you’re at increased risk for skin cancer then you may need to be seen more frequently. If you don’t have a dermatologist or other physician experienced with skin cancer detection, find a skin cancer screening near you by using The American Academy of Dermatology's list of skin cancer screenings, which are being done across the country this spring. Photo: Thanks and gratitude to VisualPanic

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