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Skin cancer is the most common type in the US, with more cases diagnosed each year than all other cancers combined. “Everyone is at risk,” says Jeanine B. Downie, MD, director of Image Dermatology in Montclair and spokesperson for the Skin Cancer Foundation (skincancer.org). “You may be more susceptible to sun damage and skin changes if you’re fair skinned. But people of color are at risk, too, and skin cancer is often found at later stages with worse outcomes in people with dark skin tones.” Here’s how to protect yourself and your family from this potentially deadly disease.
Pick a Sunscreen You’ll Actually Use
“It only works if you wear it,” says Downie. Slather on an SPF of at least 30 and make sure it says broad spectrum protection on the bottle. Use it even when it’s cloudy or when you’ll be in the car all day, and apply 20 minutes before you go outside.
An ounce (or a shot-glass-sized amount) of sunscreen is enough to cover exposed areas. Lotions or sunscreen sticks are ideal for the face because they’re less greasy, but sprays are more convenient for the body. Don’t miss the tops of ears, feet, back of the neck, behind the arms and shoulders, says Downie. Reapply every two hours, especially if you’re swimming or sweating it off. Use a lip balm with at least 30 SPF, too.
“Sunscreen is only one way to protect yourself from skin cancer,” says Rachel Herschenfeld, MD, of Dermatology Partners in Wellesley, Massachusetts. “Hats, sun-protective clothing and staying under an umbrella or indoors during peak sun hours between 10 am and 4 pm are also important.” Get kids in the habit of wearing sun-protective clothing at a young age, and they won’t think twice about it as they get older.
Examine your body once a month. Use a hand mirror or have your partner check areas you can’t see. Look for any changes in moles, spots or bumps that develop quickly, bright pink patches, sores or areas that don’t heal after a few weeks, itchy or painful areas, spots that bleed or flaky skin patches—even if they appear in areas that aren’t typically exposed to sun. “If it looks weird, get it seen,” adds Herschenfeld. “Don’t put it off.”
See a Dermatologist Regularly
Your risk factors for skin cancer determine how often you should see a dermatologist. If you’re fair, have lots of moles, have ever used a tanning bed (even once!), smoke, spend a lot of time outdoors or have a family or personal history of skin cancer, you may need to go more often. If you’ve had skin cancer, go twice a year, and if you’ve had melanoma, get checked every three months, advises Downie.