As we head into summer, skin protection should be a priority for everyone, no matter what your age. One in five people will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and it’s showing up in younger people. In fact, the number of people under age 30 developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is increasing faster than any other demographic group, according to the Melanoma Research Foundation.
“The most significant increase in recent decades has been in girls ages 15-19, possibly because girls are more likely to sunbathe and use tanning beds,” said Camille Settelmeyer, DNP at CHI St. Alexius Health. “Tanning beds expose you to the same UVA and UVB rays as the sun but provides them at a higher intensity, significantly increasing your risk for skin cancer.”
Having one or more blistering sunburns as a youth also boosts your risk.
Research shows that if you have five or more blistering sunburns early in life, your risk for melanoma increases by 80%.
To reduce your risk of skin cancer, take these preventive actions:
Apply sunscreen regularly
Use a sunscreen protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher and reapply every two to three hours. Reapply more often if you are swimming or perspiring.
Limit sun exposure in the middle of the day
Avoid the sun when UV rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Be aware that a suntan is your body’s attempt to defend itself against the sun and is still an injury to the skin. UV rays suppress the body’s immune system and its ability to stop precancerous changes.
Avoid tanning beds
Do not use tanning beds, which provide a dangerous, highly concentrated dose of UV light.
Wear protective clothing
Consider buying clothing with SPF to increase your protection.
Watch your skin
Melanoma typically starts as a mole. While melanoma can occur on any area of the body, the highest incidence of melanoma occurs on the back of the legs in women and on the trunk and back for men.
If you notice any of these ABCDE symptoms of a mole, see your doctor.
- Border irregularity
- Color variation
- Diameter (anything larger than a pencil eraser)
- Evolution, meaning a mole that is changing or any moles that are itchy or bleed
Non-melanoma skin cancer is more likely to appear in chronically exposed areas like the tips of the ears, upper backs, lower legs and the head and neck. Early signs include:
- Pink, rough, scaly skin that feels like sand paper
- Shiny new bumps that never go away
- Red, crusty areas that may be painful or itchy
- Lesions that bleed occasionally
Get regular screenings
Skin cancer found in its earliest stages is most preventable. An occasional skin check by your doctor is good idea.
“If you have a history of moles or had a lot of sun exposure growing up, get a baseline skin check in your 30s,” said Camille. “Our goal is to find skin cancer in its earliest stages to achieve best results.”