Here’s a sobering statistic: Nearly half of all Americans will develop a skin cancer lesion at least once by age 65. This makes prevention especially important, especially for those whose job entails working outdoors. By protecting your skin today, you’re protecting it from skin cancer tomorrow.
“Being sun safe starts with making sunscreen your best friend. Using a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30 or higher will help protect your skin and help prevent skin cancer. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVB and UVA radiation. Don’t limit sunscreen application to only exposed skin. Apply it under clothing too as the sun can penetrate many fabrics. Wear a full-brimmed hat and visor as permitted whenever possible,” recommends Anita Mehta, M.D. a board-certified dermatologist at Kelsey-Seybold’s Main Campus.
Personal or family history of melanoma raises a person’s risk of the disease. People who have more than 50 moles also may be at risk. Overall, those who sunburn easily, have natural blond or red hair, use tanning beds or have a history of long-term sun exposure should be vigilant with skincare. But really anyone, regardless of age, race or genetics, is at risk of skin cancer.
“The two most common types of skin cancer – basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma – are usually curable. Melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is more dangerous, more aggressive and more likely to be fatal. Early detection is critical for survival,” Dr. Mehta says.
Treat moles as more than beauty marks. A mole shouldn’t look uneven; it should be symmetrical. The border of a mole should be crisp, not uneven. The color should be uniform, not have different light or dark layers. Moles with a diameter the size of a pencil eraser or larger should be checked by a dermatologist, as well as any mole that evolves or changes.
Check your body and moles every month. Be aware that while most people do a good job monitoring skin changes on their face and upper body, the lower extremities often are overlooked. Be vigilant about checking your legs, especially behind the knees and around the back. But also the ears, back of the neck and back of hands. Examine your feet, including the soles and the spaces between your toes. Also check your genital area and between your buttocks.
Look for a pimple in a sun-exposed area that doesn’t go away or a new bump you haven’t seen before.
“If you notice a change in your skin, get to your doctor immediately. In fact, if you’re exposed to the Texas sun, it would be a good idea to have your skin examined by a knowledgeable dermatologist at least once a year,” Dr. Mehta urges.
Here are some other skin cancer prevention tips from Dr. Mehta:
- Generously slather sunscreen on (a minimum of 2 ounces or a shot glass full) at least 20 minutes before going outside. It needs a good 20 minutes to sink in before your skin is completely protected from UV rays. Putting it on after you’re out in the sun means you’re essentially wearing no sunblock for the first half-hour outdoors.
- With a job as physically active as policing, you should be using a sunscreen that is water-proof or water-resistant.
- Lips get sunburned, too! Apply a lip balm that contains sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.
- Ladies, never rely on SPF makeup, which generally isn’t strong enough to protect you.
- Check the expiration date on sunscreen. The active ingredients can lose their potency over time.
- Sunscreen use shouldn’t be “one and done.” Reapply every two hours if you are out in the sun and after swimming or sweating.
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist if any medications you take, prescription and over-the-counter, increase your sensitivity to sunlight.
Common skin cancer myths
- People who tan easily and rarely burn won’t get skin cancer. There’s no such thing as a healthy tan. Every time your skin color changes after sun exposure, your risk of developing sun-related conditions increases.
- Dark skinned men and women aren’t at risk for sun damage and skin cancer. Though the risk might be lower, this does not make you immune to skin cancer.
- You don’t need sunscreen in the winter or on a cloudy day. Even under cloud cover, it’s possible for the sun to harm your skin and eyes causing long-term damage.
- Only UVB radiation can cause skin damage. Both UVA and UVB cause sunburns and damage the skin, possibly leading to skin cancer. Use a sunscreen that provides protection from both.