Staying safe from sun damage and knowing the common signs of melanoma.

The summer is fast approaching, which means it’s time to grab those tank tops and gear up for some much-needed fun in the sun. Whether you plan to lay poolside in Memorial Park or hit the Katy Trail, your winter blues will soon be a thing of the past. But don’t let that summertime bliss make you forget about guarding yourself from a very real danger residing in that blue sky above. 

Protection from sun damage may not seem like a big deal to many people, but it can lead to harmful side effects, including permanent skin issues or even melanoma. 

“Melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer, develops from uncontrolled growth of melanocytes or pigment cells,” says Dr. Helen Tergin of Central Missouri Dermatology. “Melanoma is highly treatable if detected early, but it can spread through lymph nodes and become deadly when more advanced.” 

“Skin cancer can affect all ages,”

Dr. Helen Tergin

Dermatologists like Helen can’t stress enough how critical skincare is, especially when it comes to sun exposure. For starters, it’s helpful to be educated on the topic and differentiate between fact and fiction. 

For example, there are some widely accepted myths surrounding sun damage, like that it only occurs in people over a certain age or that it can only happen on sunny days with no cloud cover. It’s mistruths like these that lead many outdoor enthusiasts to forgo the sunscreen and reach for a low-SPF tanning oil, or worse, nothing at all.

“Skin cancer can affect all ages,” Helen says. “Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun and from tanning beds are risk factors for skin cancer development as well as some genetic factors. It’s also important to note that melanoma is the second most common form of cancer in females aged 15 to 29.”

It’s clear that no one is immune to the dangers of UV lights, and chances are you know someone who’s suffered either mild or severe effects of melanoma. And the people familiar with these symptoms will tell you it’s not worth it to ignore protective solutions like sunscreen or even the shade. In fact, there are many steps you can take to ensure your skin is fully protected the next time you decide to soak up the sun. 

It’s just as crucial to protect yourself on an overcast day as it is when there’s not a cloud in the sky.

“Some of the best things you can do to fight against sun damage is to avoid 10 a.m.-2 p.m. sunlight since this is when the ultraviolet rays are strongest,” Helen says. “If you do find yourself in the sun during this time frame or any other, it’s a good idea to seek shade, wear protective clothing, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or greater, and remember to reapply every 2 hours. If you’re swimming or sweating, it’s best to reapply every hour.”

Many people think, “OK, but I don’t need to worry about any of this when it’s cloudy, right?”. Wrong. It’s just as crucial to protect yourself on an overcast day as it is when there’s not a cloud in the sky. 

“It’s important to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen even on days like this as 80% of ultraviolet rays penetrate through clouds.” 

While taking steps toward prevention can drastically lower your risk of developing melanoma, there’s still a chance that those pesky UV rays can slip through your armor and impact your skin. It’s important to be conscious of this and keep an eye out for tell-tale signs of melanoma. Moles are often a common sign to look for, but how can you tell if a mole is cancerous or not? 

According to Helen, “When evaluating a mole for possible melanoma, follow the ‘ABCDE’ Rule: asymmetry, border irregularity, color variation, diameter over 6mm, and an evolving or changing mole. You should also watch for any new moles or symptoms of itching or bleeding.” 

If you detect early signs of melanoma, an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist like Helen should be your first step. Early detection is key, and it can sometimes make the difference between a life-threatening disease and being able to enjoy the elements this summer (and next).

Did you know?

Melanoma is the second most common form of cancer in females ages 15-29.

Tips to be sure you’re covered

• Avoid sun from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
• Apply SPF 30 or higher
• Remember to reapply
• Evaluate moles using the ABCDE Rule
• See dermatologist regularly