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The sun and your skin - Health Education

Protect your skin year-round

Although we don’t think of tanning during the winter, ultraviolet A (UVA) rays are just as strong in January as in July—and they can cause aging and cancer.

CDM-2013-Sun and your skin

The sun and your skin

UVA rays stream through clouds, and penetrate the windows in our cars and homes. Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays fluctuate with the seasons. These are the rays associated with Sun Protection Factor (SPF) claims on sunscreen bottles.

“If you’re going to a tropical location, you should know how to protect yourself,” says Barbara Benjamin, MD, a family medicine specialist at Fairview Clinics – Primary Care Skin. “Look for mineral-based sunscreens containing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Avoid chemical-based sunscreens if your skin is sensitive, and for the best protection, use one labeled broad spectrum.” Dr. Benjamin also recommends using a sunscreen that’s at least a SPF 30 and contains one—but preferably more— of these active ingredients:
  • Zinc oxide
  • Titanium dioxide
  • Parsol 1789 (avobenzone)
  • Mexoryl

Remember sunscreen doesn’t afford all day protection—adults should use at least two ounces of sunscreen per application and re-apply frequently. And contrary to popular belief, water and sweat proof sunscreen doesn’t exist. While some are resistant to water or sweat, none offer all-day protection. Clothing made of sunscreen fabric is also used in warm, sunny climates.

A few words about tanning beds

Tanning bed establishments like to say they use “safer” UVA radiation—unfortunately, although you may be less likely to burn, the radiation is actually believed to be more dangerous because it penetrates the skin more deeply. According to Dr. Benjamin, there’s no reason to visit a tanning bed to get a “base” before your vacation. “I recommend you come back just as pale as when you left or use a self-tanner and sunscreen before and during vacation. Your skin will love you for it.”

Skin cancer basics

Whether you’ve been a sun worshiper or shade lover, it’s important to examine your skin regularly for changes that could indicate cancer. There are three main kinds of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.
Basal cell (BCC) is the most common and usually found in areas exposed to the sun such as the face. It may start as a lesion resembling a pimple, but it doesn’t go away. Over time, the lesion typically continues to grow and may bleed.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is also found on sun-exposed areas of the body (and is more prevalent on the lips of smokers). In rare cases, it may metastasize, appearing as a thickened, scaly lump.

Melanoma, although less frequent, is the most deadly form of skin cancer—usually a dark brown or black lesion that arises in a pre-existing mole or on its own. It may be found anywhere on the skin—not just on sun-exposed areas. Prompt diagnosis and treatment is essential to treating the cancer successfully. Unfortunately, due to tanning beds and tropical vacations, melanoma is on the rise.

What to look for? First, be skin aware! Look at your skin at least monthly. We counsel patients about the “A, B, C, D and E” of melanoma detection. If you notice one of these characteristics, see your physician for an evaluation.
  • A is for asymmetric (one half is not like the other half).
  • B is for border that’s irregular in shape or poorly defined.
  • C is for color that varies from one area to another (shades of tan, brown or black and occasionally white, red or blue).
  • D is for diameter. While melanomas are usually greater than six millimeters, the size of a pencil eraser, they may be smaller.
  • E is for evolving. A mole or skin lesion that looks different from anything else or is changing in size, shape or color.

“Yearly professional skin exams are important for anyone who’s had skin cancer, has a history of significant sun exposure or sunburns, or a family history of skin cancer,” continues Dr. Benjamin. “During the exam, we may use dermoscopy, a technological advance that allows closer inspection of the skin using a dermatoscope, for heightened accuracy.” A dermatoscope provides 10-power magnification, allowing the practitioner to see subtle patterns of pigmentation and blood vessels—which may result in an earlier diagnosis of skin cancer when it’s most treatable.

Dr. Benjamin and her partner, Debra Scherman, MD, also a family medicine specialist with Fairview Clinics – Primary Care Skin, have completed the additional training required to use dermoscopy.

Do your homework! Visit cancer.org and melanomaawareness.org to learn more or call 952-995-8799 to schedule a consultation.

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Our Providers Make the Difference
Fairview features nearly 4,000 providers practicing at over 200 locations throughout the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area and beyond. Fairview Clinics, University of Minnesota Physicians and our independent partner clinics provide an exceptional care experience, while lowering the overall costs of health care.
 
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