The skin is the body’s largest organ and accounts for roughly 18% of an adult’s weight. It serves as a protective outer layer that keeps in moisture and keeps out invasive organism (like infections). It protects our organs against injury. It also helps regulate the body’s temperature and has self-healing capabilities.

The best way to maintain healthy skin is to prevent skin damage from occurring in the first place. Wrinkles, age spots and leathery patches are all the result of skin damage from overexposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.. As we age, skin becomes dryer and thinner. Repeated movements of facial muscles, such as frowning, smiling or squinting, cause wrinkles over time. Stress, gravity and obesity also contribute to aging skin.

When trying to keep your skin healthy, vibrant and cancer-free, keep these helpful tips in mind.

Skin Self-Exam

It’s recommended you check your skin once a month. Self-examination is best done in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. Your self-exam should consist of looking at your entire body, including your back, scalp, palms and soles. A hand-held mirror can be used for areas that are hard to see. A spouse or close friend or family member may be able to help you with these exams, especially for those hard-to-see areas like the lower back or the back of your thighs.

The first time you inspect your skin, spend a fair amount of time carefully going over the entire surface of your skin. Learn the pattern of moles, blemishes, freckles, and other marks on your skin so that you will notice any changes.

The key to detecting skin cancers is to notice changes in your skin. Look for:

  • Large brown spots with darker speckles located anywhere on the body.
  • Dark lesions on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, fingertips toes, mouth, nose or genitalia.
  • Translucent pearly and dome-shaped growths.
  • Existing moles that begin to grow, itch or bleed.
  • Brown or black streaks under the nails.
  • A sore that repeatedly heals and re-opens.
  • Clusters of slow-growing scaly lesions that are pink or red.

The American Academy of Dermatology has developed the following ABCDE guide for assessing whether or not a mole or other lesion may be becoming cancerous.

Asymmetry: Half the mole does not match the other half in size, shape or color.
Border: The edges of moles are irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined.
Color: The mole is not the same color throughout.
Diameter: The mole is usually greater than 6 millimeters when diagnosed, but may also be smaller.
Evolving: Moles or skin lesion that is different from the rest, or changes in size, shape, or color.

If any of these conditions occur, please make an appointment to see one of our dermatologists right away.

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Sun Protection

Many patients coming for skin cancer screenings at Affiliated Dermatologists understand the importance of protecting one’s skin from the damaging rays of ultraviolet light that come from the sun. Most accept as part of that protection, the importance of wearing or using sunscreens. With the vast number of sunscreens available, however, it can sometimes be difficult to know which products to choose and how to use sunscreens properly.

The physicians at Affiliated Dermatologists recommend regular use of broad spectrum sunscreens for sun exposed skin to prevent skin cancer and excessive aging of the skin. A sunscreen should be at least SPF 30and broad spectrum (meaning able to protect against both UVA and UVB rays). The SPF only refers to how well a sunscreen protects against UVB rays, the burning rays of the sun. To ensure UVA protection as well, one must read the active ingredients on the label and make sure that the sunscreen contains at least ONE of the following: avobenzone (PARSOL 1789), Mexoryl, zinc oxide or titanium dioxide For those who have concerns about chemical sunscreens, stick with ones that contain only zinc or titanium.

Most people use too little sunscreen, and apply too infrequently. Approximately one ounce (a shot glass full or a large adult handful) is recommended for an average sized adult to cover the entire body. This means that a typical 3-6 ounce bottle of sunscreen should last for only 3-6 applications. The great irony of many sunscreens is that sunlight can inactivate them, making them useless after a few hours in the sun. There is no such thing as “all-day protection” or “waterproof” sunscreen. For this reason, you should apply ample amounts of sunscreen every 2 hours, even if you are not sweating or swimming. Finally, even the best sunscreen is far from perfect, so combining it with protective hats and other clothing and trying to avoid the peak UV hours between 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. is wise.

The doctors at Affiliated Dermatologists try to keep abreast of the health and safety implications of sunscreens. It can be a challenge to sort through the information widely available on the internet and in newspapers and discover what is validated by reputable research. Our current recommendations are to apply sunscreen generously 30 minutes prior to sun exposure and reapply every 2 hours. Avoid mid-day sun exposure and cover up with clothing when possible. Ask your dermatologist if you have additional questions.

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Sunburn occurs when the skin is exposed to too much sun without the protection of clothing or sunscreen. Sunburn is the result of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun damaging the skin because it cannot produce its defensive pigment, melanin, fast enough to protect itself from the damaging rays. Though it is more frequently seen in persons who have less pigment in their skin, even patients with darker skin tones can get sunburned.

Sunburn is a breakdown in the fundamental skin structure, leading to increased risk of long-term skin conditions such as premature wrinkles, dark spots, pre-cancers called actinic keratosis, as well as more serious problems like skin cancer. Before sun exposure, it is important to apply a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 that blocks both UVA and UVB rays from the sun. UV rays penetrate the earth’s atmosphere, including clouds, which is why it’s important to wear sunscreen even on cloudy days.

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For more information on Sun Protection from the AAD,  please visit the
American Academy of Dermatology’s website.