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Person putting sunscreen on their face in the winter and practicing good skin safety.

Skin Safety 101

Skin safety is important year round as skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Fortunately, when caught early skin cancer is highly treatable. 

3 Types of Cells in the Epidermis

The top layer of your skin is called the epidermis. There are three types of cells in the epidermis: squamous cells, basal cells, and melanocytes. Squamous and basal cell carcinomas are the most common, however, cancer of the melanocytes, or melanoma, is the most deadly. Melanoma is more likely to spread to other parts of the body, increasing its mortality. These skin cancers are caused by exposure to UV rays, which damage skin cells and leads to a sunburn. Over time, the damage accumulates, leading to skin changes, premature aging, and sometimes cancer. 

Prevention Is Key to Avoiding Skin Damage 

Practicing good sun safety year round is the best way to prevent skin cancers. This is often overlooked in the cooler months but sun exposure and damage can occur even on a cloudy day. 

Skin Safety Tips

  • Shade- Stay under a tree, umbrella or shelter.
  • Protective clothing- Wear long sleeves or pants. Tightly woven fabrics provide better protection; some clothing is certified to offer UV protection.
  • Hats- Wear wide brim hats that extend all the way around your head to protect your face, ears, and neck.
  • Sunglasses- Sunglasses protect the sensitive skin around your eyes and your eyeballs and also help decrease risk of cataracts.
  • Sunscreen- Apply a thick layer on all exposed skin, including your ears and back of the neck. Look for a broad spectrum sunscreen with a higher SPF to provide more protection. Don’t forget to reapply every 2 hours and check the expiration date.

 ABCDE Rule to Checking Your Skin

Checking your skin for any suspicious moles can help find skin cancer at an early stage. The ABCDE rule can help you tell the difference between a problem and everyday imperfection. 

  • A for asymmetry- if you draw a line down the center of a mole or freckle, the two halves should be identical, however, in a concerning growth, the two halves are not the same.
  • B for border- blurry or jagged edges can be a sign of cancerous growth.
  • C for color- normal moles are usually one color, but if you notice a color change, darkening or lightening of one area, it is concerning.
  • D for diameter- if the growth is larger than a pencil eraser or ¼ inch, it should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.
  • E for elevation or evolving- if it has a raised or uneven surface, is changing size, shape or color, it is concerning.

Talk to Your Provider about Skin Safety

If you have a mole or growth that meets any of these criteria or notice any changes in your skin that worry you, don’t hesitate to discuss it with your medical provider. The benefits of early diagnosis can be lifesaving!

References:

American Academy of Dermatology Association, What to Look For: ABCDEs of Melanoma .https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/skin-cancer/find/at-risk/abcdes

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Skin Cancer. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/index.htm

Fayed, Lisa. Very Well Health, The ABCDEs of Skin Cancer. https://www.verywellhealth.com/the-abcdes-of-skin-cancer-514388

Originally Published: July 2021. Revised: March 2023. 

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