Monday, April 27, 2009

Do You Know Your ABCD(E)s?

We are all protective of our children’s skin – slathering them with sunscreen, covering their heads with big floppy hats, and keeping them out of the sun at the most intense hours of the day. We need to remember to take the same precautions for ourselves.

Five years ago, I noticed a strange new mole on my leg. It grew quickly, but I didn’t think much of it until it started to itch and bleed. My dermatologist wasn’t particularly concerned, but he wanted to take it off just to be safe. Thank goodness he did because it the mole was melanoma – the most deadly form of skin cancer. Following additional surgery, I was lucky to learn that there was no sign that the cancer had spread beyond the original site; however, my view on sun safety has changed dramatically since my diagnosis.

Back to the ABCD(E)s:

"E" is relatively new - it stands for Evolving - any mole that is new or changing should be checked by a dermatologist. (For the record, my melanoma looked just like the first "normal" example shown above, but it grew very quickly.)

Here are a few recommendations from the American Academy of Dermatology for good sun protection practices no matter what your age:

1. Avoid deliberate tanning. Lying in the sun may feel good, but the end result is premature aging (wrinkles, blotchiness, and sagging skin) as well as a 1 in 5 chance of developing skin cancer. Tanning beds and sunlamps are just as dangerous because they, too, emit enough UV radiation to cause premature aging and skin cancer. If you like the look of a tan, consider using a sunless self-tanning product. These products do not protect skin from the sun, so a sunscreen should be used.

2. Generously apply sunscreen to all exposed skin every day. The sunscreen should have a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 and be broad-spectrum (provides protection from ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays – look for products containing zinc oxide, parasol 1789, or meroxyl).
Most people do not apply enough sunscreen to help protect against harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. One ounce, enough to fill a shot glass, is considered by the Academy to be the amount needed to cover the exposed areas of the body properly. So when applying sunscreen, remember to “slop!” it on.
Here are a few more tips:
• Don’t forget your ears, nose, neck, hands, and toes. Many skin cancers develop in these areas. Protect your lips, another high-risk area, with lip balm that offers sun protection with an SPF of 15 or higher.
• Sunscreen should not be used to prolong sun exposure. Some UV light gets through sunscreen.
• Sunscreens should be applied to dry skin 15-30 minutes before going outdoors, and reapplied every two hours.
• Be sure to reapply sunscreen after being in water or sweating.
3. Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses, where possible. This is what Australians call

4. Seek shade when appropriate. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

5. Check your birthday suit on your birthday. If you notice anything changing, growing, or bleeding on your skin, see a dermatologist. Skin cancer is very treatable when caught early.

For additional information, please see The Melanoma Research Foundation or The Shade Foundation.

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