I think we’ve all been talked to to death about protecting our skin from getting burned and overexposed to the sun. If you’re at least 35 or older, you may even remember the days of baby oil mixed with iodine as the way to get a great tan. And the more tan you are, the more beautiful you are, right?
Except when you over do it and look like leather.
I confess I still like the look of sun-kissed skin; however, I now attempt to get it out of a self-tanning lotion.
We had a scare in our family recently that makes me even more leery of getting too much sun. Last year my younger sister found a spot on her upper arm that wouldn’t go away. She thought it was just some type of pimple. It wasn’t a scary looking black color, it was flesh-colored. It wasn’t larger than a pencil eraser or asymmetrical. The only thing that bothered her was that it wasn’t clearing up. She went to her primary care doctor for something else, and “by the way, what do you think about this thing on my arm?” Luckily, her doctor did not blow her off, but removed it and sent it for biopsy. About a week later, he called her to say it was melanoma.
That news was unexpected, and threw us all for a loop. If you start reading about melanoma, you realize that the odds aren’t good for survival. She had to go to a specialist who removed more skin in that area, looking at the cells under a microscope as he went, until he got to clear cells. That was a good sign, that he was able to get to normal cells instead of continually finding more cancer cells. Thankfully, my sister is cancer-free; she will be monitored on a regular basis for any recurrence for the next few years.
I’m sharing this story with you because I read an article today that says melanoma is on the rise in our teenagers. While our kids are still in our homes, we need to harp on them to use sunscreen, no matter how annoying we are. We also need to be good parents and slather our little kids (6 months and older) with sunscreen anytime they’re out in the sun. At the pool, the sunscreen has to be on at least 15 minutes before getting in the water for it to work, and reapplied often. Teach them at an early age that wearing sunscreen is important. But for those of us who grew up in the age of baby oil and iodine, it’s too late to reverse the sun damage that’s already happened. So, we have to keep an eye on our skin with regular checks of our largest organ, our epidermis.
What makes you more prone to developing skin cancer?
- If you had blistering sunburns as a teenager
- If you had outdoor summer jobs for 3 or more years as a teenager
- If you have pale skin that doesn’t tan easily (burns instead)
- If you have red or blonde hair
- If you have blue eyes
- If you have many moles or freckles
- If you have HIV or any condition that makes your immune system not work well
- If you are taking immunosuppressants
- If you have a family history of melanoma.
- If you are older than 65 years of age.
People who are non-medical may feel they can’t tell if something is normal or abnormal. In school, I was taught this way to remember how to tell if a skin lesion could be a concern:
The A-B-C-D-Es of Skin Cancer
Anytime you find a spot that concerns you, please go see your healthcare provider to get it checked out.
It’s a good idea to have your skin checked out once a year, especially if you fall into any of the at-risk categories. In the meantime, use your sunscreen with SPF of 30 or higher, limit your time out in the sun, especially between 10am to 4 pm, and dress in protective clothing such as a hat and sunglasses when you are outside. Take care of yourself. ¡Salud!