As the Summer Sun Heats Up, Remember to Protect Your Skin

Skin Cancer Warning Signs

After a cool and rainy spring, summertime weather has finally arrived in East Tennessee, luring families to lakes, pools, baseball fields, parks, outdoor concerts and festivals. While enjoying all that sunshine, remember that the pleasurable warmth of the sun’s rays also exposes you to ultraviolet (UV) radiation that causes skin cancer, premature aging and even cataracts.

With a little prevention, you and your family can enjoy fun in the sun while preventing sunburns and the cumulative UV damage that causes skin cancer. According to statistics from the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. More than two million people are diagnosed with skin cancer annually. Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer.

One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in his/her lifetime. As part of a yearly physical exam, your Summit Medical Group primary care physician can examine spots, marks or growths for changes and refer you to a dermatologist for follow-up if necessary. When spending time at the beach or at the lake, be aware that water reflects up to 10 percent of the sun's rays and sand an additional 15 percent.

General skin cancer prevention tips:

  • Use a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher.
  • For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Apply one to two tablespoons of sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside.Limit exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun is the most intense.
  • Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Shade newborns from the sun, and apply sunscreen to babies six months and older.

The Weather Channel offers an online UV Outlook Index map that shows the UV levels across the United States. It’s not surprising that Florida and other Southern coastal states would rate 10 or 10+, the highest levels. However, the 9s and 10s on the map stretch northward all the way to the Great Lakes region and into the Midwest. Be aware of the normal appearance of any moles, birthmarks or beauty marks you have and monitor them for the types of changes.

Here’s what to watch for: (source: the Skin Cancer Foundation)

  • A skin growth that increases in size and appears pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black or multicolored. 
  • A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, erode or bleed.
  • A mole, birthmark, beauty mark, or any brown spot that: changes color, increases in size or thickness, or changes in texture; has an irregular outline ; is bigger in size than 6mm or ¼," the size of a pencil eraser; appears after age 21.

Don’t forget to protect your eyes. Over time, the sun’s rays can seriously damage the eyes and surrounding skin, leading to vision loss, cataracts, macular degeneration as well as eye and eyelid cancers. However, some simple protective strategies such as wearing sunglasses and hats can protect eyes and the delicate skin around them from sun damage.