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Stay Safe In The Sun
Skin cancer is on the rise for young women in their 20's and 30's. Find out why and what you can do to protect yourself.
When was the last time you had that mole on your back checked? Or that tiny pink bump on your arm that doesn’t seem to go away? If never, my advice: Get yourself to a dermatologist now, and every six months to a year for a full-body mole check. Here’s why: Skin cancer has more than doubled during the past three decades, particularly for young women like you. The Atlanta-based American Cancer Society estimates that more than 1.1 million cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed this year, as many as prostate, breast, lung, colon, uterine, ovarian and pancreatic cancers combined.
The most surprising part of this rise: Skin cancer is not solely linked with suspicious moles as many people think; skin cancer can often appear as flesh-colored abnormalities that are less obvious and, at the outset, deceptively normal-looking. While abnormal moles are a sign that you might be at risk for melanoma (the most well-known of the three common skin cancers and also the most fatal), it’s often the lesser-known signs of other skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma that are catching women off guard.
No one knows your body like you do. Chances are, you do notice [and will notice] when something isn’t right. Caught early, there’s close to a 100 percent cure rate for skin cancer. The key is early diagnosis, which means you need to show anything suspicious to your doctor.
What’s Your Risk?
Knowing your chances of getting skin cancer can help you be even more careful. In fact, researchers have found new clues that can shed light on who needs to be on high alert for skin changes that can signal a developing skin cancer.
It runs in your family. Genetics may predispose you to being more sensitive to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, which explains why skin cancer is more common in some families and not others.
Also, don’t be fooled into thinking that if you have darker skin, you’re more protected. Research from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles discovered a rise in melanoma rates among Hispanics. This study disputes prior thinking that darker skin tones are less prone to damage because of their skin’s extra melanin, the naturally sun-protective pigment that gives skin its color.
All of this suggests that besides time spent in the sun – a key factor for sure – there is something else at play, and research points to a genetic link.
You’ve already had skin cancer. Women with a single incidence of nonmelanoma cancer have an elevated risk of melanoma in the future. We found that melanoma rates more than doubled for those people.
There’s ovarian cancer in your family. A surprising chromosomal link between this cancer and melanoma seems to exist. Women who have had nonmelanoma skin cancer and have a family history of ovarian cancer should be more vigilant about monthly skin self-exams and annual exams, including doctor-supervised mole checks.
Making Sense of Skin Cancer
Basal Cell Carcinoma
These slow-growing cancers tend to develop on sun-exposed areas like the face, lips, ears, chest and hands. They often appear as a small red, pink or pearly bump, or a sore that won’t heal.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
These also tend to show up on sun-exposed areas and can look like crusty reddish patches. They’re more aggressive than basal cell and can spread to lymph nodes.
These are usually brown, black or bluish, but some are flesh-toned or look like cuts that don’t heal. Only about 4 percent of skin cancers are melanoma, but it’s the most deadly.
The 3 Best Prevention Tactics
- Use sunscreen religiously.
Look for the key wording, “broad-spectrum protection,” which means a product protects against ultraviolet-A (UVA) and ultraviolet-B (UVB) rays. UVA is thought to be responsible for skin’s premature aging (which shows up as wrinkles and age spots) and UVB for changes that can lead to skin cancer.
- Be extra-diligent if you exercise outside.
A German study showed that sweat increases skin’s likelihood of burning. Perspiration makes skin more photosensitive. Use SPF 30 or higher, and reapply after 30-40 minutes of intense exercise.
- Make use of antioxidants
Even the best sunscreen can’t block out 100 percent of UV. The little that gets through still harms skin, setting off an inflammatory response that may lead to cancer and breaking down collagen, which contributes to skin aging. Antioxidants help stop this negative reaction. But no single antioxidant can do it all; a multipronged approach is best. Treat face and body skin daily with products that contain polyphenols (green tea is one), as well as products with vitamin C and a form of vitamin A (like retinol).
- Trust your instincts.
If you see a skin change that seems off, ask your doctor. Doing so could save your life.
- Be a role model.
Stress the importance of regular skin checks. Protect yourself with sunscreen and sun-protective clothing.
- Respect your skin.
The skin is the body’s largest organ. Many of us don’t care for it the way we should. That includes minimizing its exposure to sunlight and tanning beds, in addition to wearing sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 15 whenever you’re outside.
- Get a healthy glow with self-tanner.
I like the look of a tan, but it doesn’t have to be the real thing. Make sure to rub self-tanner in so it penetrates and doesn’t look streaky, and wash hands often while applying to avoid orange palms and nail beds.
Try: Neutrogena Instant Bronze Sunless Tanner and Bronzer in One. To protect your skin against incidental UV damage, double up with daily SPF 30 moisturizer and SPF makeup, like Dior Diorskin Compact Foundation with SPF 12
- Think outside the SPF box.
Sunscreen is just one tool we have for protecting ourselves from damaging ultraviolet sun rays. Wearing a broad-brimmed, tightly woven hat, sunglasses, protective clothing and SPF makeup, and choosing shady spots to relax over sunny ones all will help.
- Don’t forget your lips.
They have little built-in sun protection and can develop skin cancer too. Apply SPF 15 or higher whenever you’re outside, whether in a lip balm, gloss or lipstick.