Get The Facts About Protecting Your Skin
Knowledge really is power, especially when it comes to your health. As a melanoma survivor, you have learned firsthand about the disease and what you can do to help prevent recurrence. Sharing what you know, along with the information below, with your family members and friends will increase their awareness about how to reduce their risks of melanoma.
The most important preventive measure is to avoid excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. The sun is the primary source of UV rays. Contrary to popular belief, every person who is exposed to the sun needs protection. Though it is especially important for people with a fair complexion, light-colored eyes, blonde or red hair and a tendency to burn or freckle with exposure to the sun, people with any skin tone - light to dark - are at risk. Research shows that when people with dark skin are diagnosed with melanoma, it is often later stage. The reason is that many people simply aren’t aware that they are at risk so they aren’t practicing the preventive measures that may reduce those risks.
Proper Sunscreen Use
Using sunscreen is an easy way to help protect yourself, but it is important to use it correctly.
- Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 to 30. A higher SPF may be necessary to avoid burning.
- Look for “blocks UVA and UVB” or “broad spectrum” on the label.
- Use sunscreen anytime you plan to be in the sun for more than 20 minutes, even when it’s cloudy.
- Apply liberally (minimum of 1 ounce, about the same amount as in a shot glass) at least 30 minutes before sun exposure. If you use spray sunscreen, be sure to cover all exposed skin.
- Also apply to your ears, scalp, lips, neck, tops of feet and backs of hands.
- Reapply at least every 2 hours and each time you get out of the water or sweat heavily.
- Apply underneath your makeup and lip balm, even if they already contain SPF.
- Apply sunscreen first and bug spray second. Sunscreen may need to be reapplied more often.
- Sunscreen expires! Throw it away after 1 to 2 years to ensure what you’re using is effective.
- Use sunscreen in all seasons, even when it is cloudy. Snow reflects up to 80 percent of the sun’s rays.
- Avoid indoor tanning, and do not use sun exposure to increase your levels of vitamin D. To be sure you get enough vitamin D, your doctor may check your blood levels and may suggest an oral supplement.
Self-Exams Can Lead to Early Detection
Early detection can make a significant difference in the treatment and outcome for people with melanoma, and performing self-exams is key. It’s hard to spot something when you can’t see it, so ask a loved one or a dermatologist to check the areas of your body that are hard to see for yourself.
Be aware that a tattoo may make it difficult to spot something out of the ordinary. Tattoos have been popular for centuries. Generally, tattoo artists steer clear of covering any existing moles or problem areas of your skin with ink, which is recommended. However, that isn’t always possible with more extensive tattoos, such as sleeves (designs that cover the arm from the wrist to the shoulder).
These elaborate designs span more skin on your body and often include many colors of ink, which can make it difficult to spot a problem area.
If you have one or more tattoos, be diligent about performing regular self-exams and seeing a dermatologist for preventive checks.
To conduct a thorough self-exam, use a mirror to examine these key checkpoints: neck, chest, torso, arms, legs, groin and face, including the skin around your eyes, ears and inside your nose and mouth. Don’t forget these often overlooked areas:
Test Your Skin Health KnowledgeTRUE or FALSE...
- Only light-skinned people need to wear sunscreen. TRUE or FALSE?
- Some types of medicine may increase your risk of sunburn. TRUE or FALSE?
- Dark-skinned people don’t need sunscreen because the increased amount of melanin in their skin provides natural protection. TRUE or FALSE?
- You can get melanoma in places that are never exposed to sunlight. TRUE or FALSE?
- Dark lines in your toenails mean you have toe fungus. TRUE or FALSE?
How Did You Do?
- False. Plain and simple, anyone who is exposed to the sun needs sunscreen, no matter how light or dark their skin is. Keep in mind that different tints are available for different skin tones, which helps avoid a white residue after application. Ask your dermatologist for recommendations if you have allergies or skin conditions.
- True. Some medicines make your skin more sensitive to the sun, which may increase your risk of melanoma. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about this side effect so you can be extra diligent about protecting your skin. Other lesser known risks include certain medical conditions, scars, skin conditions, skin ulcers and a high level of exposure to arsenic.
- False. Though darker skin has more melanin (the pigment that gives skin its color), which does offer some protection from harmful UV rays, it is still vulnerable.
- True. Along with forming on your skin, melanoma can develop in the mucosal lining of the body, a membrane that covers many body cavities and passageways. The body’s moist mucosal linings are in the respiratory tract; in areas such as the sinuses, nasal passages and mouth; in the gastrointestinal tract, including the anus and rectum; and in the female genital tract, including the vagina and vulva.
- COULD BE EITHER! You might have toe fungus, but a discolored spot or dark streaks in a toenail or fingernail may be a warning sign of a rare type of cutaneous malignant melanoma called sub-ungual melanoma. Again, early detection is important. To be sure, ask your doctor.