Between sun-seeking behaviors and tanning bed usage, the incidence of skin cancer – especially melanoma – is on the rise. And with the sunniest season right around the corner, we want to help you brush up on skin safety tips.
"We cannot control genetics, but we can control what we do in terms of our behaviors," says Pranav Sheth MD, a dermatologist at Group Health – a TriHealth Physician Partner, and director of the Dermatology Research Center of Cincinnati.
Be Proactive: 6 Ways to Protect Yourself
"Sun protection involves several different things. Many people think of sunscreen, but that's not the only way to get sun protection," Dr. Sheth explains. He recommends:
- Wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 30 that protects against UVA and UVB rays
- Avoiding direct, excess sunlight between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Wearing sun-protective clothing, including long sleeves, collared shirts, and wide-brimmed hats
- Reapplying sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming, sweating or exercising
- Performing self-examinations once a month
- Visiting a dermatologist once a year
Some people are more prone to developing skin cancer, especially those with blonde or red hair, blue eyes, fair skin, a family history of skin cancer, and a history of sunburns.
Knowing What to Look For: Self-Examinations
Self-exams should be performed once a month in front of a full-length mirror to look for changes in every area of one's skin.
"In regard to brown spots, there are sunburn freckles, which we often see along the nose, face, shoulders or arms. Then, there are the moles, which can occur anywhere, including the scalp and feet." he points out.
"There are also other brown growths, such as barnacles. We have to differentiate these brown spots and growths from melanoma. They're all somewhat tan or brown in color and what one wants to look for, is something growing or changing over a period of time."
Dr. Sheth suggests seeing your dermatologist if you notice a mole or freckle:
- That is new, growing or changing over a short period of time
- With an irregular border or color, especially dark brown or black
- That is larger than a pencil eraser
New FDA Guidelines
Thanks to new guidelines by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it is now easier to choose an effective sunscreen. The new FDA guidelines require standardized testing and labeling.
The new standards prohibit companies from marketing sunscreens as "water proof" because this may embellish performance, and labels must now indicate whether a sunscreen protects against UVA rays that are primarily linked to skin cancer and wrinkles.
"We know that UVA also causes skin cancer and what we call 'photoaging.' Photoaging is the constellation of wrinkling, dark spots – the leathering look – or thickening of the skin that some people get," Dr. Sheth explains.
"One can't undo skin damage," he says. "However, one can reduce new damage and possibly the progression of skin damage with good sun protection measures."