Summer is full of outdoor activities, even when social distancing. We may not be vacationing with friends and family, but there are still plenty of outdoor activities you can do to keep the summer fun going. When you do choose to spend time outdoors, it's essential to protect your skin from the sun. You probably put sunscreen on yourself and your kids when you sit out by the pool or spend the day at the lake. But do you know you should protect your skin with more than just sunscreen anytime you're outside? Sun protection is essential all year round, and it's best to use several different kinds. When you're working in the yard, enjoying a family picnic outdoors, or taking an afternoon walk or bike ride, make sun safety an everyday habit so you can avoid getting a sunburn and lower your chance of getting skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is the most dangerous and causes the most deaths. Anyone can get skin cancer, but people with specific characteristics are at higher risk, such as those with:
- Lighter natural skin color
- Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful
- Blue or green eyes
- Blonde or red hair
- Certain types and a large number of moles on their body
- A family history of skin cancer
- Older adults
Regardless of whether you have any of the risk factors listed above, reducing your exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays can help keep your skin healthy and lower your chances of getting skin cancer in the future. Most people get at least some UV exposure from the sun when they spend time outdoors. Making sun protection a priority will help you enjoy the outdoors safely, avoid getting sunburnt and lower your skin cancer risk.
What To Know About Early Detection
If you know what to look for, you can spot warning signs of skin cancer early. Finding it early when it's small and has not spread makes skin cancer much easier to treat. A change in your skin is the most common sign of skin cancer. This could be new growth, a sore that doesn't heal, or a change in a mole. But not all skin cancers look the same. Melanomas commonly appear on the legs and arms of women, and the number one place they develop on men is the front of the body, ranging from the shoulders and the chest down to the hips. Keep in mind, melanoma can arise anywhere on the skin, even in areas where the sun doesn't shine. For melanoma specifically, a simple way to remember the warning signs is to recognize the A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma—
- "A" stands for asymmetrical. Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different?
- "B" stands for border. Is the border irregular or jagged?
- "C" is for color. Is the color uneven?
- "D" is for diameter. Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
- "E" is for evolving. Has the mole or spot changed during the past few weeks or months?
Most moles, brown spots, and growths on the skin are harmless – but not always. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the ugly duckling is another warning sign of melanoma. Most normal moles on your body resemble one another, while melanomas stand out like ugly ducklings in comparison. This highlights the importance of not just checking for irregularities, but also comparing any suspicious spot to surrounding moles to determine whether they differ from one another. These ugly duckling lesions or outlier lesions can be larger, smaller, lighter, or darker, compared to surrounding moles.
If you notice any of these warning signs, or anything new, changing or unusual on your skin, see a dermatologist immediately.
What You Can Do
No matter your risk, be sure to examine your skin from head-to-toe every month to identify any potential skin cancers. Write down any existing moles or lesions that grow or change. If you're unsure about something, contact your doctor. Melanoma can be so dangerous once it advances, so it's crucial to follow your instincts and see your doctor if you see a spot that doesn't seem right. Just know, monthly self-exams are helpful, but not enough. Schedule yearly appointments with your dermatologist for a professional skin exam. If you've had melanoma before, follow up regularly with your doctor once treatment is complete. Stick to the schedule your doctor recommends making it easier to identify any recurrences.
Sun Safety Tips
Protection from UV radiation is important all year, not just during the summer or at the beach. UV rays from the sun can reach you on cloudy and hazy days, not only on bright and sunny days. UV rays also reflect off of surfaces like water, cement, sand, and snow. Refrain from using indoor tanning, such as a tanning bed, booth, or sunlamp to get tan, all of which exposes you to UV radiation.
Here's an easy tip to help make sure you and your family stay sun safe. Get ready for summer with a tote bag full of different ways to protect your skin. Keep the tote bag handy, so you can grab it whenever you head out for summer fun! Some important things to pack are a lightweight long-sleeved shirt or cover-up, a hat with a wide brim that shades your face, head, ears, and neck, sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays, and sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher and both UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) protection.