As the weather warms and we start to spend more time outdoors, dermatologist Juris Germanas, M.D., has three pieces of advice for protecting yourself from skin cancer:
Become aware. Skin damage from the sun is caused by ultraviolet light hitting the body, most commonly affecting the face, hands, scalp and back. To avoid peak ultraviolet light overexposure, try to refrain from being outdoors for long periods when the sun is at its strongest, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
When you are outside, wear a brimmed hat that covers your ears to protect your face, scalp and head. Use sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30 all over your body, and also use a facial moisturizer that contains sunscreen. Reapply sunscreen every 3 hours if you are outside for long periods of time. And don’t try to get a tan by natural or artificial means (tanning outdoors or via a tanning bed).
Don’t ignore. Periodically check your skin for abnormalities. Look for moles that are getting darker or widening. Have someone check your back to make sure everything looks ok where you can’t see. Pay close attention to a crusty sore that is not healing, or something that looks like a pimple that bleeds and does not heal.
If you see a very dark blemish or freckle, it could be melanoma, a less common but very dangerous skin cancer that can be deadly. If you have any skin abnormalities, do not ignore them or wait to see if they get better – instead, get them checked out immediately by your primary care provider or dermatologist.
Use available resources. Take advantage of free skin cancer screenings when they are offered in the community. While a variety of factors determine how often a person should get checked for skin cancer, including an individual’s sun damage and complexion, generally people who have had a lot of sun damage or issues should be checked once a year. Another informative resource is the American Academy of Dermatology’s website, which features tips for skin care and cancer prevention.