One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70. While we all shelter-in-place and practice social distancing to win the war against Covid-19, skin cancer isn’t on lock-down. In fact, we estimate that some 2.5 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer will be diagnosed and treated between July and December of 2020.
Skin cancer doesn’t wait. And, now that May and Skin Cancer Awareness Month is here, it’s the perfect time to get re-educated on the dangers of skin cancer, how to prevent damage to your skin from the sun, and what sunscreen is best for you. The experts at Avail Dermatology are diving in to discuss those vital topics, on top of why you need to continue seeing your dermatologists even during the pandemic.
Why You Should Still Go to the Dermatologist, Even During Covid-19
If you are postponing your appointment for your annual skin exam, it’s more important than ever to perform an at-home skin exam.
Signs of potential skin cancer include:
- A spot that is different from others.
- Spots with irregular shapes.
- Spots that have changed over time.
- Raised lesions or lesions with raised edges.
- Spots that itch or bleed.
If you’ve lucky enough to have a friend or family member willing and able to help, have them check every inch of your body, from top of head to bottom of feet.
If you’re alone too shy or to ask another, stand in front of a mirror and examine the front and back of your body. Then look at both sides of your body with your arms raised. Don’t forget to examine hidden areas like between your toes and the bottoms of your feet. Then take a hand mirror and check your scalp and back of your neck.
If you see one or more signs of skin cancer, make a note for yourself as a reminder of where you think you may have a problem. Then call to schedule an appointment. Early detection and treatment are important, even during these challenging times.
How to Avoid the Damaging Effects of Exposure to the Sun
As the weather gets nicer, practicing social distancing to win the war against Covid-19 becomes a bit more challenging. To escape the boredom of shelter-in-place, many of us are heading outdoors for longer walks, bike rides, and even just sitting outside in the fresh air. With outdoor activity comes an increase in our exposure to the sun. Most of those cases are the result of repeated exposure to the sun, and so it’s important to practice sun-safety every time we venture outdoors.
Here are four things you can do to avoid the damaging effects of exposure to the sun:
- Find ways to avoid direct exposure to sunlight. The center for disease control reports that as little as 15 minutes of exposure to the sun’s UV rays can damage your skin. When you spend time outdoors, seeking out the shade is a good start.
- Even when in the shade, you will be exposed to some of the sun’s UV rays, so it’s important to cover up. Long sleeves and long pants obviously provide more protection than shorts and tank tops, and darker colored clothing may offer greater protection than lighter colors. Not all clothing is created equal, and if you’re looking for better protection from the sun, seek out clothing that is certified to protect against UV radiation. Two often neglected areas are the head and feet. Remember to wear a hat and something to cover your feet!
- If you’re going to be outdoors for any length of time, make sure to apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. Few people realize that sunscreen has an expiration date, so make sure to check for that. Also, application of sunscreen only lasts about two hours, so set a timer on your smart watch or phone to remind you to reapply that sunscreen every couple of hours.
- While we’re focused on skin protection during Skin Cancer Prevention Month, let’s also remember that sunlight can cause significant damage to your eyes. Make sure to wear sunglasses with UV protection.
Tips for Finding a Good Sunscreen
Now is the perfect time to check the sunscreen on your shelf to make sure you’re properly prepared. Go gather your sunscreen products now and then run them through this simple checklist of things to look for.
What to look for in sunscreen
- Sunscreen does not last forever. In fact, it typically has a limited shelf life of just 2 to 3 years. Check the packaging for an expiration date and if your sunscreen has expired or will expire shortly get rid of it and replace it as soon as you can.
- The sun produces two types of rays that can cause skin cancer, UVA and UVB. You’ll want a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB. Sunscreen that blocks both types of rays will typically be labeled “broad spectrum”. Look for the words “broad spectrum” or “effective against UVA and UVB” on the label. If you don’t see these words on your current supply of sunscreen you may want to replace it.
- Not all sunscreen protects equally, and there’s typically a rating factor right on the packaging. Look for the letters SPF, which is shorthand for “Sun Protection Factor”. After the letters there will be a number. The higher the number the greater the protection from UVB. The rating factor is based on the protection offered by the sunscreen relative to unprotected skin. An SPF of 15, for example, allows the skin to be exposed to 15 times more UVB than unprotected skin before burning, while an SPF of 50 allows for 50 times more exposure before burning. If your current supply of sunscreen has an SPF of less than 15 replace it immediately and, going forward, consider using sunscreen with an SPF as high as 50. While sunscreen with an SPF of higher than 50 is available, the additional protection is relatively minor relative to the increased cost.
- Unfortunately, there is no universal rating for UVA protection, but several competing standards are emerging. It’s worth noting that sunscreen labeled “Broad Spectrum” offers protection from UVA, the question is simply how much? The label “broad spectrum” indicates UVA protection of at least at 1/3 the level of the SPF number on the packaging. Other indications of protection from UVA include (a) the letters UVA within a circle (look for sunscreen with a rating of 10 or higher), (b) a P rating (look for a P of +++ or ++++), and (c) a Boots Star Rating (look for four or five stars).
Before we get off the subject of sunscreen, it’s important to note that how you apply the sunscreen and how often you apply it makes a difference. The ratings described above are based on tests, and in those tests the amount of sunscreen used in determining the SPF ratings mattered. When applying sunscreen, use enough to coat your skin well and remember to reapply sunscreen every two hours while out in the sun.
Despite best efforts to remain safe, many will face a non-melanoma skin cancer challenge at some point in their lives. If you do receive a skin cancer diagnosis, it’s important to know your options.
The good news is that surgery is no longer the only effective treatment option for non-melanoma skin cancer. For many patients facing a skin cancer challenge, Image-Guided Superficial Radiotherapy (IG-SRT) may be an option. IG-SRT is a painless procedure and avoids the issues and side effects associated with surgery. You can learn more about the benefits of IG-SRT at https://www.gentlecure.com/.
Have anymore questions about skin cancer or Skin Cancer Awareness Month during the COVID-19 pandemic? The experts at Avail Dermatology are here to help! Click here to schedule an appointment with us or give us a call at 770.251.5111.