Summer means fun in the sun, but there are simple ways to stay safe and save your skin throughout the season.
What you probably already know: the biggest danger of sun exposure is melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers, which are caused by exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
What you may not know: Melanoma skin cancers are potentially deadly because they can metastasize, or spread, to other organs. While non-melanoma skin cancers rarely metastasize, they still must be removed to avoid further harmful skin damage.
The sun’s ultraviolet rays harm skin by damaging the DNA of skin cells. While the body tries to repair the damage, sometimes it just can’t keep up. Too much damage over time can result in cells growing uncontrollably and induce cancer. People who are at greater risk to develop skin cancer are those who have lighter skin, numerous moles, or a family history of skin cancer.
Here are some practical tips to help you-and your children-enjoy the sun safely:
Avoid overexposure in the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest.
Use sunscreen regularly and appropriately. Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, a minimum of 15 minutes before sun exposure. Cover all skin that will be exposed, and reapply the sunscreen every two hours.
Apply sunscreen even if indoors next to a window or in the car. Automobile glass does not block all UV rays.
Wear sun-protective clothing. Regular clothing does not keep UV rays from reaching the skin.
Never use a tanning bed. Research shows that as little as one session can give rise to skin cancer.
Even if you take these precautions, it’s a good idea to inspect your skin every couple of months, and to enlist a partner’s help for hard-to-see areas. Fifty percent of melanomas are found by patients or a partner. Take a picture of any unusual lesion and watch it over time. Spots that could be melanoma are black or multi-colored, change over time, and are bigger than a pencil eraser or have an irregular border. Rough patches or a bump that bleeds could be non-melanoma skin cancers.
If you notice any of these curious spots or moles on your skin, it’s time to call a dermatologist.
Dr. Frank Santoro is a Hartford HealthCare-affiliated, board-certified dermatologist who practices with Hartford HealthCare Medical Group. He has offices in Southington and Farmington. Please visit www.thocc.org/cancer to learn more.