Woman applying sunscreen

Safeguard Your Skin

Although skin cancer is the most common of all cancers and strikes one in five people in the United States, there is an upside: Preventive measures can be taken—and they work.

The biggest step you can take to prevent skin damage is to protect your skin from the sun’s UV (ultraviolet) rays, which can still be harmful even on overcast days. Avoid unneces­sary sun exposure during the peak hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

When outdoors, wear at least SPF (Sun Protection Fac­tor) 15 sunscreen, and apply it, liberally, uniformly and frequently. Buy sun­screen with the highest protection at the lowest cost. It should be applied about 20 minutes before going outside and reapplied after an hour outdoors to seal it into your skin. Reapply sunscreen more often if you per­spire a lot or are in the water and pay special attention to the areas of your body that are most exposed. The head, neck, arms, legs and back of hands are areas that are most susceptible to skin damage.

Dressing for sun protection is also important. Choose clothes with dark colors, tight weaves, long sleeves and pants legs. Opt for wide-brimmed hats, too, and sunglasses that provide 100 percent UV protection.

Monitor Moles and Blemishes

Monthly examination of your skin is another good preven­tion practice. Note the patterns of moles, freckles and other marks on your skin, and consult a physician if you notice any abnormality. The ABCD rule can be helpful in spotting an abnormal mole.

A (asymmetry): One half doesn’t match the other.

B (border): The edges are ragged or notched.

C (color): The color changes or isn’t the same all over.

D (diameter): The mole is wider than a pencil eraser (more than about 1/4 inch).

Early Detection

If detected early, most skin cancers are curable and treated with surgical resection (removal of a tumor). 

Squamous and basal cell carcinoma are mainly caused by extensive sun exposure and usually appear as non-healing, irritated and reddish skin.

Melanoma is also linked to chronic sun exposure, but genetics also play a role. People with a lot of moles on their skin may be at higher risk. Melanoma usually appears as an abnormal black or dark-brown blemish. It’s less common than squamous and basal cell carcinoma but much more aggressive. Once melanoma has spread, it is treated with chemotherapy and immunotherapy, but is rarely cured.

All things considered, skin damage is a very serious issue, yet the problem is avoidable. It is far better to be proactive and protect your skin: It could save your life. Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider for a skin check-up.