Certain areas may seem more vulnerable to sunlight than others, but all skin can be damaged by sun exposure. That being said, certain areas do have a higher instance of skin cancer than others, including the tops of the ears, the nose, scalp, neck, chest, legs, and backs of the hands. Particular attention needs to be paid to these areas any time they’re exposed to direct sunlight at any time of the year. Ultraviolet (UV) light damages our skin tissue by destroying cellular DNA, which affects cell regrowth, resulting in malfunctions and abnormalities. Those dysfunctional cells are what we call cancer, and once they begin reproducing, they may be difficult to contain.
Some of our skin is thicker, like on our body’s core areas, and some are thinner, like our face, nose, hands, feet, scalp, and areas that are always kept covered. These areas with thinner skin are more delicate and may be damaged more quickly, but all of your skin is sensitive to UV rays.
You should apply sunscreen (with an SPF of 30 or higher) to any areas that are exposed to the sun. Wearing clothes that cover enough of your skin that are appropriate for the temperature and activity will protect your skin from the light. Sunglasses are important to protect your eyes, and hats can protect your scalp.
Depending on the season, it can be easier or harder to avoid being in the sun. During the fall and winter, we’re inside more, and when we’re outside, we’re mostly covered. It’s recommended to use a sunscreen or moisturizer with an SPF even in the cooler months. In the spring and the summer, it’s important to use sunscreen on any part of your body that is showing.
When you can, staying out of the sun is the best way to protect your skin. If you can enjoy outdoor activities in the shade, that’s a great way to decrease your potential for sun damage. When possible, avoid the sun during its strongest hours (10am to 4pm).
Lighter hair and skin shades are quicker to damage in the sun than darker skin tones. The pigment acts as a shield to the UV rays, and this is what happens when we tan. While some people might seek that darker look, the coloring is a defense mechanism that is caused by sun damage.
Severe damage, especially from sunburns, can lead to skin cancer. For those of us who have spent, and may continue to spend, a lot of time in the sun, regular self-monitoring for new spots is an important way to catch early signs of skin cancer. These spots usually look somewhat like a mole, but they’ll have differentiating characteristics that signal a problem. Dermatologists use the ABCDE model for mole evaluation, and you can use this at home as well. The acronym stands for:
Asymmetry – moles are usually circular or oval. Any strange shape might mean it’s more than just a mole
Border – a common mole has a sharp, well-defined edge. One that is blurred or fuzzy is cause for further examination
Color – any abnormal coloration for skin (blue, green, white, black) can be a sign of cancer
Diameter – regular moles are the size of a pencil eraser or smaller, and anything larger may be a cause for concern.
Evolving – if the shape, size, or color of the spot changes, there may be a problem.
As we age, the risk of skin cancer developing increases. New and past exposure can cause a problem at any time, so regular monitoring is important to try to catch skin cancer before it becomes a big problem. Schedule an appointment today for a skin cancer screening.