Summer Sun Safety

Protect yourself with these precautions to lower the risk of developing skin cancer.

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Too much exposure to the sun can lead to premature aging, skin damage and skin cancer. It’s estimated that nearly one in five Americans develops skin cancer. So before hitting the beach, mowing the yard or even taking a drive, protect your body’s largest organ, your skin.

Dr. Jeff Alexander, owner, dermatologist and medical director of the Skin Care Institute medical spa in Tulsa, recommends applying sunscreen daily to sun-exposed areas, especially before outdoor activities, and wearing protective clothing.

“Remember that sun damage is cumulative and it is helpful to block even the small doses you get through car windows and walking to and from your car,” Alexander says. “Daily moisturizers with sunscreen, especially tinted ones, and makeups with sunscreen are advised – and don’t forget to sunscreen ears, behind ears, chest and hands.”

He says sunscreen should have a broad spectrum, blocking ultraviolet A and B rays with an SPF of 30 or higher, and be water resistant, meaning coverage will last 40-80 minutes while a person sweats or swims.

“Sunscreen should be reapplied depending upon the time recommended on the sunscreen label and a thick layer of sunscreen is actually better than a thin layer,” he says.

Other ways to safeguard your skin include clothes designed to block ultraviolet rays, topical antioxidants and dietary supplements taken in conjunction with sunscreen use.

Dr. Rola Eid, medical director of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa, emphasizes the importance of children following sun safety tips as well.

“When we calculate our total sun or ultraviolet exposure during our lifetimes, nearly 25 percent of that exposure occurred during ages 1 to 18,” Eid says. “Five or more sunburns during our youth nearly doubles our lifetime risk of melanoma. Previous generations of parents weren’t aware of these increased skin cancer risks, but parents today who protect their children from sun damage can know they’re doing right in helping prevent skin cancer.”

The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma.

“Melanoma is serious because it’s the deadlier type of skin cancer that can spread to other parts of the body if not caught early,” Eid says. “The good news is that melanoma is quite uncommon and survivable when both discovered and treated early.”

Alexander suggests that a person check his skin at least twice a year.

“New lesions, changing lesions, and any mole which does not resemble others on your body should be examined by a dermatologist,” he says. “Lastly, tanning beds cause early aging and skin cancer. They should be avoided, especially by children.”

ABCDEs of Melanoma

Asymmetry: One half unlike the other half

Border: An irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border

Color: Varied from one area to another; shades of tan, brown or black, or sometimes white, red or blue

Diameter: Melanomas usually greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, but can be smaller

Evolving: A mole or skin lesion looking different from the rest or changing in size, shape or color

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