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5 Essential Steps for Preventing Skin Cancer

May 17, 2019

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Skin cancer may be the most common form of cancer in the United States, but there’s a lot you can do to reduce your risk of developing this potentially deadly disease. Find out how you can protect your skin, today and every day.

Congratulations — spring has officially arrived, and you’ve made it through another long northeastern winter. If you’re anything like the average New Yorker, you’re more than ready to trade arctic temperatures and cloudy skies for warm air and sunshine.

But even if there’s nothing quite like baring a bit of skin, soaking up some rays, and restoring optimal vitamin D levels, spending too much time in the sun can damage your unprotected skin and increase your risk of skin cancer.

As the most common type of cancer in the United States by far, the statistics on skin cancer are certainly sobering: An estimated 9,500 Americans are diagnosed with some form of the disease every single day. One in five people, or 20% of the entire U.S. population, can expect to be diagnosed with skin cancer at some point in their lives.

Skin cancer may be alarmingly common, but luckily, it’s also largely preventable. Whether you’re only outdoors for one or two hours a day or you try to spend as much time in the sun as possible, here are the primary steps you can take to protect your skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) light and prevent skin cancer.   

1. Apply sunscreen

Incorporating sunscreen into your daily skin care routine is one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce your skin cancer risk. If it’s cloudy or you don’t plan to spend much time outside, a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher should offer sufficient protection for exposed skin.  

When you plan to be outdoors for several hours or longer, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher; it should also be water-resistant if you’ll be at the beach, in the pool, or sweating.  

Proper sunscreen application means using enough lotion to cover all areas of exposed skin, being careful not to forget your face, neck, ears, hands, and the tops of your feet if you’re wearing sandals. It also means reapplying every two hours or after swimming or excessive sweating.

2. Seek shade

Another easy way to minimize your contact with harmful UV rays is by staying in the shade whenever possible, especially during the mid-day hours — or between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. — when the sunlight is most direct.

While seeking shade from direct sunlight under a tree, umbrella, covered porch, or other nearby shelter can go a long way in protecting your skin, it’s important to recognize that some amount of UV light still reaches your skin, even in the shade. That’s why, any time you plan to be outdoors for a significant amount of time, it’s important to wear sunscreen or protective clothing.

3. Cover your skin

We hear it all the time from patients who admit they rarely use sunscreen — not everyone enjoys applying or wearing the stuff. But even if you choose to forego this optimal form of skin protection, you can still limit your exposure to UV light by wearing clothes that provide more complete skin coverage.

Stay cool and protect your skin through the warm-weather months by choosing lightweight long-sleeve shirts, long pants or skirts, and a wide-brimmed hat. Tightly woven fabrics offer the best protection, but you can also buy clothes that are SPF-rated for optimal protection.   

4. Wear sunglasses

Protect your eyes — and the delicate skin around them, including your eyelids — by wearing oversized or wraparound-style sunglasses with lenses that provides 100% protection against UV radiation, including UVA and UVB light rays.  

Although you can expect prescription sunglasses to provide the highest level of protection, OTC sunglasses can be hit or miss. Don’t wear sunglasses you aren’t sure of, and only buy those that are clearly labeled as 100% UV-rated.

5. Examine your skin

No matter how meticulous you are about applying sunscreen, covering your skin, and avoiding the strong midday sun, no skin cancer prevention plan is complete without monthly self-skin checks and annual preventive skin cancer screenings.

When examining your own skin, you’ll want to pay particular attention to any scaly patches, dome-shaped growths, or unchanging sores. The ABCDEs of atypical moles, or those that are more likely to become cancerous, are:

  • Asymmetry: One half doesn’t match the other
  • Border: Irregular or indistinct borders
  • Color: Shade variations within a single growth
  • Diameter: Bigger than a pencil eraser
  • Evolution: Distinct changes in shape, size, or color

If you notice a mole or other type of skin lesion that’s changed, appears unusual, itches, or bleeds, give us a call. On top of evaluating any questionable looking spots, we can perform a comprehensive skin cancer screening to check every inch of skin.

Secondary skin cancer prevention

While primary skin cancer prevention measures can be highly effective, there’s no way to completely eliminate your risk. Fortunately, skin cancer is highly treatable, especially in its early stages.

If an in-office screening reveals you have actinic keratosis, a pre-malignant growth commonly found on sun-exposed areas of skin, we can prevent its progression with photodynamic therapy (PDT), a light-based treatment that kills precancerous cells and clears your skin.

PDT uses a special light along with a topical medicine called a photosynthesizing agent to get rid of precancerous cells — after the photosynthesizing agent is applied to the treatment area, the light triggers its active ingredients, creating a chemical reaction that targets and destroys the unwanted cells.   

When it comes to treating premalignant lesions and preventing skin cancer, research shows that PDT works as well as excision surgery or radiation therapy, but without the scarring or long-term side effects.

If you’d like to learn more about the best ways to protect your skin through the warm weather months and beyond, the experts at MDCS: Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery can help.

Call your nearest office in Manhattan, Hampton Bays, Commack, Plainview, or Smithtown, New York today, or use the easy online tool to schedule a visit with one of our board-certified dermatologists any time.