May is Melanoma awareness month, and what perfect timing since the sun is starting to shine just a little brighter these days in my part of the world. I can't stress enough how important is is to protect your skin as it is even more vulnerable than you may think. I am taking this opportunity now to give you some tips to keep your skin in tip top condition so that you avoid being overly susceptible to something deadly like Melanoma. Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer and it begins with skin cells called Melanocytes, which are responsible for producing Melanin (which is what makes our skin darker). When we are exposed to UV rays via the sun or a tanning booth etc, the Melanocytes begin to increase the rate at which they are producing Melanin. Being exposed to an unhealthy amount of sun (especially unprotected!) can cause these cells to begin to grow abnormally and can ultimately lead to them becoming cancerous.
This may seem like a lot of information to take in, but I tried my best to break it down in laymen terms so that you feel well educated and not "talked at". I spend my summers at the pool almost everyday, and as a young teen, I never bothered myself with being aware of protecting myself beyond an SPF 8, this is something I regret. It is understandable to want that golden glow during the summer warm months, and this can indeed me accomplished, just at a slower pace and with much more protection for your darling skin. I did another blog post on harmful sunscreens vs. safe ones, so if you are interested in reading that, I will link to the blog post below.
There are a few ways to detect if you are already showing signs of Melanoma, and if you fit any of these I would definitely make an appointment to get a check up at your doctor soon. You are also at a higher risk if you have a family member who has had skin cancer before. Better to be safe than sorry! In women, melanoma often develops on the lower legs as well as between the shoulders and hips. Whereas in men, melanomas are often found between the shoulders and hips, or the head and neck area. Don't let this fool you though, rest assured, Melanoma can start ANYWHERE on the body, these are just key areas I would check daily after exposure to UV rays.
Melanoma.com suggests also visiting a doctor is any of the following are noticeable on your skin:
- If you notice any of the following on your skin, see your doctor as soon as possible:
- A growth that increases in size and looks pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black, red, pink, or multicolored
- A mole that changes in color or in texture, takes on an uneven shape, gets larger, or is bigger than a pencil eraser
- A spot or growth that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, fade, or bleed
- An open sore that lasts for more than 4 weeks, or heals and then reopens
- A scaly or crusty bump that is dry, rough, and pointed (sticks out like a horn) and may sometimes cause a pricking or tender feeling in the skin
Now how to protect yourself:
Avoid, if possible, direct exposure to sunlight during the hours of 11 am and 3 pm, as these are the times when the suns harmful rays are most hitting the Earth's surface. Wear a hat to protect your face and wear other forms of clothing protection where possible, I know it's normally super hot with the sun, but find ways to compromise, after all it is for your skin. ALWAYS protect yourself with sunscreen, even on cloudy overcast days, there is still a high risk believe it or not. Make sure your sunscreen provides a broad spectrum of protection and includes protection against UVA and UVB rays. Remember that water reflects off of water, snow etc, so if you are playing in a pool, your risk still exists. Another thing to remember for small children is that they are at the highest risk of all, be sure to have them wear a "sun shirt" while in the pool, and lather them up with sunscreen. Also remember that sunscreen, after exposed to water (ocean, pool etc) needs to be reapplied every few hours, regardless if it says waterproof, do it anyway!
The best way to be proactive in maintaining healthy, cancer-free skin is to get educated, knowledge is power, and I hope I have done this for you all today.
Previous Sunscreen Blog
Melanoma Self Examination
Sending HEALTHY sun your way,