The month of May is Skin Cancer Awareness month. Why is this important? With the warm weather now upon us and the sun gaining strength every day, it is vital to be cognizant of protecting your skin from the effects of the sun.
Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. If left unchecked, these cancer cells can spread from the skin into other tissues and organs. There are different types of skin cancer- all of which are caused or worsened by sun exposure. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common. Skin cancers may have many different appearances. They can be small, shiny, waxy, scaly and rough, firm and red, crusty or bleeding, or have other features. Therefore, anything suspicious should be examined by a board-certified dermatologist.
There are many misconceptions regarding skin protection. I have outlined what are among the most popular myths and truths here in order to provide information on what is safe and what is not. I urge you to be aware of the harmful effects of the sun’s rays. While we love the warmth of these brighter days—let’s love it safely.
MYTH: Tanning booths provide safe sun; in fact they are a good way to get ready for summer.
TRUTH: Most tanning booths claim to be safe because they emit UVA rays (not UVB rays) that don’t burn your skin. However, these same rays, while non-burning, are responsible for deeper dermal damage over time which contributes to wrinkles and skin cancer.
MYTH: Concerns over Vitamin D deficiency means I should not use sunscreen.
TRUTH: While many people are Vitamin D deficient, exposing one’s skin to the summer sun unprotected is not the answer. Only ten minutes of mid-day sun is actually needed to produce ample amount of Vitamin D for the day. For those who still want or need more, Vitamin D supplements as well as a diet with Vitamin D-fortified foods (milk, yogurt, cereals, fatty fish) are recommended.
MYTH: Makeup and face moisturizers that contain SPF are enough protection when heading outside.
TRUTH: These combination products are good if going to the office (with limited sun exposure), but if outdoor activity is planned, these products will only suffice if ample amount is applied (e.g., at least a marble’s size for the face and a golf ball amount for the body). Also, frequent application is needed (at least every two hours if outside). Most people don’t apply enough sunscreen to render themselves protected to the numerical amount printed on the bottle.
MYTH: Waterproof sunscreen keeps your skin protected after going in the water.
TRUTH: Just not true. It will protect you while in the water, but it is best to reapply after you come out because some will rub off in the water or when toweling dry.
MYTH: The chemicals in sunscreen are bad for me.
TRUTH: Chemicals are only bad if you have sensitive skin. But now there are several non-chemical-containing sunscreens that do not irritate the skin and also have a wide range of sun protection (against UVA and UVB rays). Those with sensitive skin should look for products that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
MYTH: During the summer I always tan, never burn; I’m not at risk for skin cancer.
TRUTH: Because the three most common types of skin cancers (basal cell, squamous cell, melanoma) are related to cumulative sun exposure, protection of the skin from the sun is imperative (regardless of skin type). In fact, skin cancers have been reported in patients with naturally dark skin as well as pale skin, so just because someone tans (rather than burns) doesn’t mean that skin cancer is not possible.
MYTH: I keep an eye on my skin, look for new or unusual spots; I don’t need to see a doctor.
TRUTH: Everyone should have their skin checked by a doctor once a year. And not just any doctor, but a dermatologist who specializes in skin cancer prevention and treatment. It’s critical that people do their homework to find someone who can provide the best care. Avvo.com is a free website that offers ratings and reviews of all the doctors in the US, including dermatologists. And because May is skin cancer awareness month, Avvo is donating $5 to the Melanoma Research Foundation for every doctor review you leave on the site.
Everyone should be checked annually by a dermatologist for precancerous lesions. Please contact us to schedule an appointment.