Every year brings the San Joaquin Valley an average of 3550 hours of sun. We love the outdoors, but even in winter, there is a significant risk for skin cancer. In this month’s article, Dr. Leslie Storey, of Valley Skin Institute, shares 5 essentials to preventing sun-related skin cancers.
1. Use sunscreen all year round.
Many of us instinctively use sunscreen in the summer, but we skip it in the winter. The UV-B rays of sunlight are not as intense in the winter, but they can still cause permanent skin damage. And, of course, the bright sun on the ski slopes can be exceptionally damaging to the skin.
Everyone should apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. Anyone spending extended time outdoors (more than 20 minutes at a time) should use a water-resistant broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, reapplying every two hours. Be sure to reapply your sunscreen after swimming, showering, or sweating. If you need help choosing the best sunscreen, check out this previous article entitled What’s the Best Type of Sunscreen?
2. Never let yourself get sunburned.
Scientists at Brown University followed 100,000 women for 20 years to see if there was a relationship between sunburns and a potentially dangerous form of skin cancer known as melanoma. They found that women who had as few as five sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 were 80 percent more likely to develop melanoma in mid-life. They also had a 68 percent higher risk of non-melanoma skin cancer.
Skin cancer follows extended exposure to ultraviolet radiation. A sunburn results from an unusually high dose of ultraviolet radiation. Making sure you never burn reduces your risk of skin cancer. Even if you have had sunburns in the past, preventing new sunburns keeps your risk of skin cancer from getting worse.
3. Take your vitamin D supplements.
Vitamin D helps your immune system fight the potential form of skin cancer known as melanoma. If you are overweight, chances are that you are vitamin D-deficient. Why? Vitamin D binds to fat. If you have heavy deposits of fat just beneath your skin, they will absorb vitamin D before it reaches the rest of your body.
It’s not hard to get enough vitamin D naturally without risking skin damage. Just 20 minutes of exposure to bright sunlight on your arms and face every day (preferably in the morning before 10 a.m. or in the evening as the sun is beginning to set) will provide your skin with all the ultraviolet light it needs to make the vitamin. Just know that if you have extra subcutaneous fat deposits, taking an additional 1000IU Vitamin D supplement is a good idea.
4. Drink bottled water.
In the San Joaquin Valley, it is important to stay hydrated with pure water. Many communities near Fresno have arsenic in their drinking water as a legacy from agricultural practices banned many years ago. Fresno itself admits that its water supply contains low levels of arsenic.
Arsenic is a risk factor for the progression of basal cell carcinoma. You can remove this risk factor by drinking bottled water. Using local tap water for washing dishes, bathing, swimming, and washing clothes is OK.
5. And see Dr. Storey right away when you notice the A-B-C-D-E signs of melanoma.
Fresno dermatologist Dr. Lesley Storey of Valley Skin Institute urges all patients to come in for an exam right away when they notice the A-B-C-D-E signs of melanoma.
- Asymmetrical shape of a growth or mole on the skin. (The two sides of the lesion look different)
- Borders of the skin growth or mole are irregular or uneven.
- Colors of the skin growth or mole are changing, or the lesion looks inflamed or “angry.” Melanomas can be black, blue, brown, pink, red, or tan.
- Diameter of the skin growth or mole is wider than a pencil eraser (about 6 mm or one-quarter inch).
- Evolution of the skin growth or mole includes itching, stinging, burning, or pain.
Click here for more information about the signs and symptoms of skin cancer. The A-B-C-D-E signs are a reason to request an appointment with Dr. Storey online or to call (559) 366-4805 to request an appointment right away. Prompt treatment can help you avoid surgery. It can save your life.