The skinny on skin cancer: One doctor's personal experience (Part III)

Posted by David Asp, Ed.D.
May 24, 2016

Dr Asp Skiing

What preventive measures could you take to protect your skin from overexposure of ultra violet radiation? First, it is important to remember that one needs to protect their skin not just in the summer but also in the winter, fall and spring. At higher altitudes, there is greater risk, as well as near or on the water, sand or snow. Here are seven tips to protect yourself and your loved ones:

  1. Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. This is when the sun is most intense and produces its greatest chance of sunburn. It is a myth that one cannot get sun damage on a cloudy day, because even on cloudy days, our skin can be damaged. Up to 80 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet rays can penetrate through clouds and fog.


  2. Wearing clothing — particularly clothing that has a high UPF (ultraviolet protective factor) — to protect our skin is important. Slipping on a shirt, wearing a hat and using sunglasses with ultraviolet protection is smart thinking. Wearing clothing that is tightly woven and bright- or dark-colored tend to protect more than pastels or bleached cottons. While there are companies that produce clothes that have ultraviolet protective factors woven into them,  individuals can add laundry additives to their wash that provide a higher UPF to their clothes. The higher the UPF, the more protection it provides. Thus, a shirt with 30 UPF means that just 1/30 of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation will reach the skin. 


  3. Generously use sunscreen when outdoors. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a sun protective factor (SPF) of at least 30.The SPF number indicates how long it will take for the UVB rays to redden the skin when using a sunscreen compared to how long the skin would redden without sunscreen. Thus, an SPF of 30 means it will take 30 times longer to redden the skin and will protect one against 97 percent of the sun’s UVB rays. Use sunscreen that is broad spectrum, which protects from both the UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays are longer rays that cause skin damage and age the skin. UVB rays are shorter rays that cause skin damage and burn the skin. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going out, and re-apply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating. There is no current published data indicating regular sunscreen use has an adverse effect on the human body. 


  4. Do not use tanning beds or tanning booths. All of Canada and many states in the U.S. outlaw the use of tanning beds for individuals under age 18. Tanning beds’ ultraviolet radiation is a higher intensity sun lamp that increases the risk of melanoma 12 times that of regular sun exposure.


  5. Stay away from sun burning your skin. As indicated, experiencing one bad sunburn as a child or teen doubles the risk of getting melanoma. 


  6. Examine your skin from head to toe every month. Early detection of any new bumps or signs of changes in your skin is critical. It is important to check areas that are difficult to see. So, having someone check those areas — such as the back of the head, back or other areas — may be necessary. If you notice anything changing, growing or bleeding, call your physician or dermatologist immediately.


  7. With an annual physical, have your physician or dermatologist perform a skin exam. You may need to ask your physician or dermatologist for a skin exam.  

David Asp, Ed.D., is a psychologist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Red Wing.

Read parts one and two of Dr. Asp's personal experience with melanoma.

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