Skin cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer, especially among people under 30. While some cancers develop quickly, others can take years or even decades to reach a problem point. Using sunscreen, avoiding direct sunlight, and keeping an attentive eye on your skin will give you the greatest chances of preventing sun damaged skin and skin cancer.
Ultraviolet radiation from the sun can damage skin at the cellular level. When skin is exposed to sunlight, the UV rays heat up the tissue, and if exposed too long, cells and DNA can be damaged. If DNA coding is transformed by the damage, it can lead to the wrong information for reproduction being passed along and result in irregular growth. This uncontrolled growth is cancer, and it can be visible on the skin when it starts to develop.
Early stage skin cancer often looks like an irregular mole. Dermatologists use an acronym, ABCDE, when they perform a mole evaluation during a skin cancer screening:
Asymmetry: normal moles are circular and are a defined shape
Border: blurred or faded edges of a spot might indicate it may not be just a mole
Color: when a mole is a strange color like white, blue, or black, a dermatologist should inspect it
Diameter: normal moles are usually smaller than .6mm, the circumference of a pencil eraser or smaller
Evolving: when a spot is changing size, color, or shape, you should consult a dermatologist
Avoiding direct sunlight in the first place is the most effective way to avoid sun damage to your skin. During the winter, we’re usually inside, and when we are outside, we’re covered up. In the summer, with less clothes for coverage, enjoying outdoor activities in the shade is one strategy to be outdoors but out of direct UV pathways. The sun is at its strongest between 10 and 4, so avoiding activities during those hours can help prevent skin cancer. Wearing a hat is an important way to block UV rays from your scalp, which is one of the most exposed areas of the body. Other areas, like the face and hands, are also generally exposed to the sun, even when we have longer sleeves or pants on.
When you are outside, wearing sunscreen or a moisturizer with an SPF (sun protection factor) will help block UV rays from damaging your skin. An SPF of 30 or greater is recommended, and it should be reapplied every couple of hours while you’re out.
Youth, fair shades of skin, and light hair are all particular risk factors for skin damage from the sun. Children and adolescents are very vulnerable, since their skin is still developing and because kids spend a lot of time outside. For all ages, light shades of skin and hair don’t reflect as much UV light and can burn more easily, requiring more attentive protection. However, all skin is vulnerable to damage by the sun.
Your chances of having skin cancer will rise alongside the amount of time you spend in the sun, but everyone should have a skin cancer screening as an annual checkup since avoiding the sun completely is very difficult. It can also take a long time for a problematic growth to appear, so make an appointment at one of our locations for an examination if you haven’t been screened recently.