When it comes to exercise, we’re encouraged to “feel the burn.” When it comes to your skin, however, the same isn’t true.
Sunburns cause irreversible damage from harmful UVA and UVB rays. And summer isn’t the only time to protect your skin, either. Although the rays are more intense during the warmer months, our skin is vulnerable all year long — even when driving in a car.
UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin’s thickest layer, known as the epidermis, and are the main culprit in aging. UVB rays burn the surface of the skin and are responsible for causing immediate damage, like rashes, sunburns and, later, skin cancer, which is the most common form of the disease throughout the world.
Approximately 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. In fact, by the age of 70, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer.
Types of Skin Cancer
There are three major types of skin cancers: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. Although melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer, when it is caught early the survival rate is nearly 99 percent. Still, an estimated 7,100 people will die from melanoma in 2021 according to the American Cancer Society.
Skin cancer can affect anyone, especially those who have had extensive exposure to the sun or have done indoor tanning. Additional risk factors include:
- Moles: People with many moles or unusual, atypical moles.
- Light skin and eyes: Anyone with a fair complexion, blond or red hair, blue eyes, and freckles are at increased risk for developing melanoma.
- Family history: If a close relative is diagnosed with skin cancer, your risk is two to three times higher than average.
- Familial melanoma: Although rare, gene mutations can be passed down through generations.
- Previous skin cancers: Prior cancers put you at risk for recurrence.
Knowing your risks and seeing a dermatologist for a full body skin exam once a year is your best defense in avoiding any form of skin cancer.
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Know the Skincare Alphabet
Dermatologists and doctors recommend evaluating moles using the ABCDEs. Look at each mole on the basis of:
- Asymmetry (one half of the mole doesn’t match the other)
- Border irregularity
- Color that is not uniform and often dark
- Diameter greater than 6 mm (about the size of a pencil eraser)
- Evolving in size, shape, or color.
Use these letters as a guide to examine moles that appear suspicious.
Protection Is Key
Many people remain confused about how much or how often to apply sunscreen. Use these tips for sun protection all year long:
- Apply a sunscreen that’s water resistant and broad spectrum (meaning it protects your skin from UVA and UVB rays).
- Use the right amount — which is roughly an ounce to your body and an additional teaspoon for your face and neck.
- Choose an SPF of 30 and cover your entire body, including the tops of your ears, scalp, and feet, as well as the back of the neck, nose, and lips.
- Reapply every 90 minutes when active, sweating, or swimming.
- Avoid peak sun hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
- Avoid tanning beds.
The UPMC Department of Dermatology diagnoses, treats, and manages numerous hair, skin, and nail conditions and diseases. We care for common and uncommon conditions, and our treatments include both surgical and non-surgical options. We operate several specialty centers for various conditions. The UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center is the most comprehensive dermatologic laser facility in the region. With UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we offer a Skin Cancer Program that provides complete care from screenings, diagnosis, treatment, and beyond.