It’s hard to resist the siren song of sunshine. It boosts the mood, regulates sleeping patterns, and helps our skin make vitamin D, an essential nutrient for bone health and function.
But there’s a downside to sun exposure as well, mainly because of its ultraviolet (UV) light. Too much of this energy can cause sunburn. However, it can also penetrate deeper into the skin, causing damage on a cellular level. Over time, this damage can lead to premature aging and, more seriously, skin cancer.
Juan-Carlos Caballero, MD, and his team at Warrenton Dermatology & Skin Therapy Center in Warrenton, Virginia, are very experienced in treating dermatological disorders. In honor of Melanoma Awareness Month, Dr. Caballero wants to make sure you know the truth about your skin and the sun.
Why the sun can cause skin damage
The body has a remarkable way of healing itself, and that includes the skin. In fact, it’s always shedding dead skin cells and replacing them with new ones. If you’ve ever had a sunburn, you’ve seen this in action for yourself when your skin started to peel.
However, even if your skin looks normal again in a week or two, long-term damage can still remain well below the surface. On top of that, this repair process becomes more difficult for your skin as you grow older. When this occurs, it’s easier to see the results of sun damage, as lines and wrinkles start to appear.
However, the harm can go far beyond cosmetic issues. It can also cause DNA damage within the cells, triggering cell changes that make them grow and divide out of control in the outermost layer of the skin — a condition known as skin cancer.
The signs of skin cancer can vary from person to person, so it’s essential to have any suspicious marks on your body evaluated by an expert, such as Dr. Caballero.
What you should know about skin cancer
There’s a reason why skin cancer raises alarm bells. More people develop this form of cancer than any other. However, that doesn’t mean all types of skin cancer are one and the same. There are three main types, which are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma
These two forms of skin cancer are by far the most common, affecting more than 5 million people on an annual basis. Both older and younger people can develop these skin cancers, and they’re typically not life-threatening, but they still require expert attention.
While far less common, melanoma is much more serious than any other form of skin cancer. This form of the disease develops in the cells that provide color — or pigment — to the skin.
Unlike nonmelanoma forms of skin cancer, this type is highly aggressive and more likely to spread to other areas of the body.
Your skin and the sun
First, it’s crucial to know your personal risks of developing skin cancer. For example, you can have a higher risk of developing it if you have a history of sunburns, a personal or family history of skin cancer, or have a fair complexion. If you have a heightened risk of developing the condition, you need to be extra diligent in checking your skin regularly for signs of cancer and protecting your skin from the sun.
Whether you have an average or increased risk for skin cancer, it’s crucial to limit your sun exposure. When you can’t, take these steps to protect yourself:
- Choose the shade instead of the direct sun
- Wear protective clothing and sunglasses
- Use sunscreen, even during overcast weather
- Avoid times when the sun is the most intense, which is usually 10am- 4pm
And avoid tanning beds. While these devices may give you the perfect tan, they still contain harmful UV rays and can cause the same damage.
Finally, everyone should get in the habit of performing regular skin checks. Remember, everyone can get skin cancer, regardless of age, gender, or skin color. Checking your skin monthly and scheduling routine screenings with an expert, such as Dr. Caballero, can help you spot problems as early as possible, so you can take action before things become serious.
Have you had your skin checked recently? Schedule a skin cancer detection appointment in honor of Melanoma Awareness Month by calling 540-701-4656 or requesting an appointment online with Warrenton Dermatology & Skin Therapy Center today.