May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. May also means local schools are wrapping their academic years and, unofficially, it’s the start of summer.
Vacations to sunny locales, gardening and days by the pool are on the agendas of many over the next few months. What shouldn’t be on those agendas, however, are sunburns and overexposure to the sun’s harmful rays.
“Having an active lifestyle and being outdoors are both great but spending time in the sun also carries some risk,” said Dr. Wayne Ledinh, plastic surgeon with WellSpan Plastic Surgery & Skin Care Center. “Any sun exposure can lead to skin damage, premature aging and an increased risk of skin cancer – especially if you get a sunburn.”
Dr. Ledinh said the sun generates invisible, harmful rays that increase risk for skin cancer. These ultraviolet rays are especially problematic for people who have light eyes, fair skin and blond or red hair; a lot of moles; or a history of sunburns.
One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Academy of Dermatologists.
Dr. Ledinh recommends all people six months of age and older take precautions before going outside by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. One ounce – or a shot-glass full – is what most people need for proper protection.
“If you plan to spend the afternoon outside, it’s important to remember to reapply sunscreen often – at least every two hours, after you’ve been in the water, if you’ve toweled off or sweated,” Dr. Ledinh added.
There are several other ways to help protect yourself and your family from sun:
- Seek shade, especially during midday hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
- Cover up with clothing to protect exposed skin
- Use rash guards containing SPF to help provide additional protection – especially for babies younger than six months
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect the face, head, ears and neck
- Wear sunglasses that block as close to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays as possible
- Use a lip balm with an SPF of 30 or higher
Is that spot something to be concerned about? Start by being aware of your skin and any changes it goes through. Then, remember your ABCs:
- A: Asymmetry
- B: Border irregularity
- C: Color that isn’t uniform
- D: Diameter larger than 6mm (or about the size of a pencil eraser)
- E: Evolving shape, color or size
“If you notice any of these, it’s important to be seen by your primary care provider, who can assess the area of concern to determine if the need for a biopsy or referral to our office for further evaluation is necessary,” said Dr. Ledinh.