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A dermatologist shares 4 ways to protect your skin this summer

Person wearing sun protective clothing

Whether your favorite summer activity is taking a long hike on a trail, catching waves at the beach or having fun at a backyard barbecue, the warmer temperatures generally mean more time spent outdoors in the sun. But because more exposure to sunlight means more exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet A and B rays, you need to take steps to protect yourself from cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation. 

Erin Gardner, MD, a dermatologist at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, shares four quick tips on keeping your skin healthy in the summertime, plus how often you should be checked for skin cancer by your provider.

What are some steps you can take to protect your skin this summer?

1. Choose the right sunscreen. Gardner advises selecting a physical, or mineral, sunscreen that’s SPF 30 or above with the ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which are less likely to cause rashes. Avoid sunscreens made with the ingredient para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), an organic compound often found in sunscreen, because it can cause skin irritation. Look for a sunscreen with the label “broad spectrum,” an FDA-approved designation that indicates the product blocks both UVA and UVB rays. “Both can lead to skin cancer development, and UVA is the one that really produces photoaging, or premature aging,” Gardner says. Women may wear makeup products with sunscreen if that’s more convenient. However, “they may want to go beyond the amount included in their makeup,” he says. “Start with an application of an SPF 30 or above and then a favorite powder or foundation over the top.”

2. Wear a wide-brimmed hat outside. “Unlike a baseball cap, it protects your forehead, cheeks, the tops of your ears and the back of your neck,” Gardner says.

3. Consider investing in UPF clothing. “One of the advantages of wearing sun-protective clothing is that you don’t have to put sunscreen on those areas of the body,” Gardner says.

4. Choose the right time of day to be outside. “If you can, go outside before 10 a.m. or after 3 p.m. because the time in between has the greatest ultraviolet exposure,” Gardner says. “When possible, seek a shaded area instead of being in direct sunlight.”

How often should you get your skin checked for cancer? 

Patients with a history of skin cancer should see a dermatologist annually, semi-annually or more frequently depending on what their dermatologist advises. Patients with moles or other lesions may need to be checked every few years. 

What are some things to watch out for in between screenings? 

Gardner recommends all skin cancer patients do a monthly skin self-exam. After getting out of the shower, scan your arms and legs for anything that looks unusual. To examine your back and hard-to-see areas, have your partner check for you or use a handheld mirror and full-length mirror to look.

“You’re looking for moles that change in size, shape and color,” Gardner says. “Look for spots that are raised, bleed or itch persistently. Those are signs that suggest you need to see your dermatologist.”

If you do receive a diagnosis of melanoma, what can you expect?

There’s a lot of good news surrounding melanoma treatment and survival rates. If melanoma is localized, there’s a 98% survival rate. “In the last couple of decades, melanoma treatment has been revolutionized with medications called immune checkpoint inhibitors and other targeted therapies,” Gardner says. “There’s so much hope in melanoma treatment because we have medicine that makes such a difference these days.”

BJC HealthCare providers use a variety of advanced methods to effectively diagnose and treat all types and stages of skin cancer. Request an appointment with a specialist today.

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