Skin Safety 101
Protection from UV rays 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 leading to a sunburn. Over time, the damage caused 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. Some things you can do to protect your skin are:
- 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- wide brim hats that extend all the way around your head to protect your face, ears, and neck
- Sunglasses- not only protect the sensitive skin around your eyes but also protects your eyes and decreases risk of cataracts
- Sunscreen- 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, however 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.
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!
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 30, 2021. Updated February 2, 2022.