While winter skies may look dreary, protecting your skin is still “in”
When weather forecasts are filled with predictions of wind, rain and frosty temperatures, it’s easy to forget that the sun and its potentially harmful rays are still out there. Even during the dead of winter, it is still important to protect your skin. Our skin is the largest organ in our bodies, and a recent study, which appeared in JAMA Dermatology, notes that the likelihood that Americans will develop the most serious form of skin cancer has steadily climbed for the past two decades. More than 1 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year.
Each year, I make an annual pilgrimage to my dermatologist to point out each and every new—and old—skin blemish. This year, I had the JAMA study in hand for my visit. UCLA’s Dr. Paul Levins, my dermatologist, explained that not every patient needs to have an annual full-body skin exam.
According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s 2016 U.S. guidelines aimed at preventing deaths from skin cancer, the task force concluded that there isn’t enough evidence to date to know whether full-body skin exams reduce deaths from melanoma. “If you are in an at-risk population, have a family history of melanoma, were born with a lot of moles or have a bleeding mole, then a full-body skin exam is prudent,” said Levins.
During my skin exam, Levins explained to me that my facial blemishes could be ascribed to dark spots that people get as they age. He also cited an interesting fact that I didn’t know before.
“Asians, for some reason, are more prone to get skin cancer on their hands, fingers, toes and feet,” Levins said.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, certain skin cancers are influenced by genetic and environmental factors other than UV sun exposure. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest statistics from 2013 indicate that white men and women still have the highest incidence of melanoma of the skin, people with darker complexions should still adhere to skin cancer prevention guidelines. For one thing, the Skin Cancer Foundation notes, individuals with dark skin are particularly susceptible to acral lentiginous melanoma that typically appears on the palms of the hands and soles of the feel.
The American Academy of Dermatology notes that skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. The academy emphasizes that through regular self-skin exams and a yearly examination by a dermatologist, early detection and proper treatment can help find early skin cancers and increase cure rate percentages.
Levin said that it’s important for darker-complexion people to get annual skin check-ups as well as those with lighter complexions. Darker skin pigment may provide a bit more protection, he said, but doesn’t protect you fully from the sun’s UV rays or from other types of skin cancer.
Fortunately, there are proactive measures we can take to protect our skin from sun damage. UCLA Dermatology reminds us of the following strategies to avoid skin cancer:
- Protect yourself from the sun.
- Know the Risk factors.
- Outdoor activity planning – minimize time during the sun’s most intense rays.
- Tanning beds should be avoided.
- Examine your skin monthly.
- Consult your dermatologist once a year.
- Take your skin seriously.
UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center offers additional tips for skin cancer prevention and detection:
- Asymmetry: The shape of one half of the mole does not match the other.
- Border: The edges are ragged, notched or blurred.
- Color: The color is often uneven. Shades of black, brown and tan may be present. Areas of white, gray, red or blue may also be seen.
- Diameter: The diameter is usually larger than 6 millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser) or has grown in size.
- Evolving: The mole has been changing in size, shape, color, appearance or growing in an area of previously normal skin. Also, when melanoma develops in an existing mole, the texture of the mole may change and become hard, lumpy or scaly. Although the skin may feel different and may itch, ooze or bleed, melanoma usually does not cause pain.
So, take your skin and these sun protection strategies seriously to minimize your risk for developing skin cancer and other sun-related skin conditions. For more information, a YouTube video with UCLA dermatologist Dr. Anabella Pascucci offers tips for detecting and preventing prevent skin cancer.