By Macaela Mackenzie. Photos: Getty Images.
Unless you’re perpetually living under an umbrella, summertime should be just as synonymous with skin protection as it is with swimsuits. In fact, can we get a motion to rename swimsuit season, sunscreen season? With skin cancer on the rise, lathering on the SPF (on your face, on your body, and yes, even when it’s cloudy) should be step one of your summer beauty routine.
While prevention and protection are your number one focus, being extra vigilant about spotting potential signs and symptoms of skin cancer is just as vital — every single burn or tan you get this season ups your risk. “Getting a sunburn is visual evidence that you’ve gotten enough UV exposure to cause mutations in your DNA that put you at increased risk for skin cancer,” Erin Gilbert, M.D., Ph.D., a celebrity dermatologist in New York City tells Allure. The more you get, the higher your risk. “If you get five sunburns, your risk of developing melanoma is approximately doubled. Is a single sunburn bad? Yes, but it’s the overall accumulation of UV damage to your skin that occurs from summer to summer that really puts you at risk.”
According to the experts, here’s what to watch for to make sure your skin stays cancer-free.
1. Shifting spots
“If you have a new or changing brown spot, visit a board-certified dermatologist to get it checked out,” Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City tells Allure. “It is normal to develop new brown spots up until the age of 30, however after that time, every new spot should be evaluated.” As a general rule, follow your ABCDE’s. A stands for asymmetry — check for moles that don’t look the same on both sides. B stands for border — spots with jagged edges are no bueno. C stands for color — moles that get crazy colorful (white, black, blue or multicolored) should be checked out. D stands for diameter — anything bigger than the size of a pencil eraser deserves a professional look. E stands for evolution — anything that changes over time could be cause for concern.
2. Painful mole
If a mole suddenly starts giving you other issues such as “a change in the sensation of a mole, like itchiness, tenderness or pain,” that’s worth a look as well, Sejal Shah, M.D., board-certified dermatologist in New York City, tells Allure.
3. Weird bumps
Moles aren’t the only bumps to watch. “If you have a new flesh-colored or pearly bump on the skin, it should be evaluated. It may be a basal cell carcinoma,” says Zeichner. “While these are rare in young patients, it can happen — especially if you were exposed to significant amounts of sun when you were young. According to Gilbert, basal cell cancers can start as flat shiny spots and become bumps over time. “If you notice a new skin-colored or pink bump in a sun exposed area, you should definitely have a dermatologist evaluate it,” she says.
4. Persistent scabs
Scabs or wounds that don’t heal over a couple of weeks could also be an issue. “This may represent a squamous cell carcinoma,” says Zeichner. “Similar to basal cell carcinomas, they are rare, but can develop in younger patients especially if there was a significant history of sunburns.”
5. Scaly skin
This type of skin cancer might also manifest in the form of a scaly or rough patch —"we call this the ‘ugly duckling sign'," says Shah. “Pre-cancerous lesions called actinic keratoses show up as tiny gritty, scaly spots on a red or pink base that can often be picked off with a fingernail, but then return again in the same location,” adds Gilbert. If not treated, these can turn into squamous cell cancers.
P.S., no skin is safe from regular sun exposure. “It’s important to know that skin cancer most often appears in areas where you are most exposed to the sun, like the face, chest, shoulders, arms, hands and legs. However, this isn’t always the case,” says Gilbert. "Skin cancer can appear on the palms or soles of your feet, beneath your nails, or in your mouth or groin.” Those with darker skin tones aren’t exempt from a strict sunscreen routine either (in fact, those with dark skin might actually have a higher risk of skin cancer).
To protect yourself, always, always, always apply sunscreen and add extra burn protection by staying in the shade or wearing a hat when you can. “The current recommendation from the American Academy of Dermatology is to choose a product with an SPF of at least 30. I personally recommend my patients using the highest SPF possible,” says Zeichner. “While theoretically there is very little difference between a product with SPF 30 and anything higher, starting out with the sunscreen that has a higher SPF is like an insurance policy to make sure that you get the highest quality protection for the longest period of time in the real world.”
Armed with this knowledge, you’re so ready for sunscreen season.
This story originally appeared on Allure.
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