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You’ve Got It Made in the Shade

When it comes to skin protection, you’ve got it made in the shade. By staying covered, you can significantly reduce your risk of sunburn, skin damage and harmful UV ray exposure. In fact, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime! With pool days, vacations and outdoor activities just around the corner, it’s important to keep skin protection in mind. With the help of our Harbin Clinic Dermatology team, learn more about why you’ve got it made in the shade.

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is an out-of-control growth of cells in the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin. This abnormal growth is caused by mutations leading to skin cells multiplying rapidly and forming tumors. There are three major types of skin cancer:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma: This often occurs on areas of the skin exposed to the sun frequently, like your hands, face and ears. Your squamous cells lie just below the outer surface of your skin.
  • Basal cell carcinoma: This cancer lives in your basal cells, which produce new skin cells. They sit directly below the squamous cells.
  • Melanoma: This develops in the melanocytes, the cells that produce melanin. Melanocytes are in the lower part of your skin, making this the most serious skin cancer.

What causes it?

The main cause of skin cancer is too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. When you’re overexposed to sunlight, especially if you have a sunburn, sun poisoning or blistering, the UV rays damage the DNA in your skin, causing abnormal cells to form.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of skin cancer differ depending on the type, but it’s essential to be aware so you can keep an eye out for any changes in your skin.

  • Squamous cell carcinoma characteristics include warts, open sores that don’t completely heal, or rough, scaly patches that may crust or bleed.
  • A bump of nodule that is pearly or clear, a flat, white scar-like area, a reddish patch, or a pink growth with a slightly raised edge are signs of basal cell carcinoma.
  • Melanoma can range in appearance, so it’s important to know what to look for. A growth or spot that is asymmetrical, covered with speaks of black and brown, has jagged or irregular edges, is getting larger, or has changed in size, shape or texture is a sign of melanoma.

What are the risk factors?

  • Fair skin: If you have less melanin in your skin, you have less protection from damaging UV rays. Although, anyone can develop skin cancer regardless of their melanin level.
  • Excessive sun exposure: If your skin is in the sun most of the time, you’re more likely to develop skin cancer, especially if you’re not taking the proper precautions.
  • Moles: People with a dysplastic nevus, an atypical mole, have a higher risk of melanoma.
  • History of sunburn: If you’ve had a blistering sunburn once or more, it increases your risk of developing skin cancer, even more so if you were a child or a teenager when the sunburn happened. Having five or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma.
  • Family history: You may have a higher chance of skin cancer if one or more of your parents or immediate family members have had it.

How can I prevent it?

  • Wear sunscreen: Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day is one of the best ways to prevent skin cancer. Apply a generous amount of sunscreen and reapply every 90 minutes. Regular use of SPF 30 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing melanoma by 50%.
  • Avoid the sun’s strongest hours: Between 10 am and 2 pm, the sun rays are the strongest, so schedule outdoor events for another time or try to stay in the shade.
  • Wear sun-protective clothing: Hats, sunglasses and clothing that covers your arms and legs provide more protection for your skin.
  • Avoid tanning beds: The lights in tanning beds emit UV rays and can increase your risk of skin cancer. People who use tanning beds before 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75%.
  • Perform self-checks: Be aware of any existing moles, freckles or bumps. Also, check for new growths and talk to your dermatologist if you see anything worrisome.

To learn more about how to protect your skin this summer, visit Harbin Clinic Dermatology.

Published May 9, 2023

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