Although it is hard to believe with temperatures here in Maine currently in the 40s and our last snowfall occurring just one week ago, May is the first month for most of the country when people start to spend more time outside with fewer layers of clothing. That fact may be why the American Association of Dermatology declared May of all months as Skin Cancer Awareness Month.
In addition to wearing fewer layers and potentially exposing ourselves to more ultraviolet light, more skin exposure allows us and others to evaluate the exposed skin for abnormal lesions. The AAD has even established a Twitter and Instagram hashtag campaign, #lookinggoodin2016, to encourage people to make sure that they are protecting their skin from ultraviolet rays and regularly checking for signs of skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. In fact, melanoma, which is the deadliest from of skin cancer, kills one American every hour of every day of the year.
The saddest part of skin cancer is that much of this problem is eminently preventable. Unlike the 1950s and 1960s, when sunscreens were not even available and skin cancer was minimal, we now know the causes of skin cancer and how to minimize the risk.
Despite the fact that all this information is well known, many still do not wear sunscreen as a routine. Even worse, many folks poke their fingers in the eye of fate by going to tanning beds or liberally baking in the sun.
Even if you are fatalistic about skin cancer or cancer in general, consider the premature aging effects of excessive sun exposure. There is not a week that goes by that I don’t hear people lament their past inadequate use of sunscreen.
While we do have many treatments to reverse some of the effects of the aptly named process of photoaging, I still cannot reverse all of the effects, especially when skin elasticity is gone. I frequently see otherwise healthy, athletic and outdoorsy patients who have skin that looks 10-30 years older than their real age.
Recent FDA changes in the standardization of sunscreen terminology have helped to reduce confusion between different versions and brands. As I have in the past, I recommend a minimum SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 with repeat application of sunscreen every 2 hours if you are outside and especially when exercising and sweating.
On the Maine Laser Skin Care website, we have excellent sunscreen choices that I highly recommend. These particular sunscreens are especially useful for those with sensitive skin and/or who have had laser procedures.
So, enjoy the month of May, the warmer weather and the anticipation of spring and summer, but do so responsibly. I want you to make sure you are #lookingoodin2016, so check your skin and wear your sunscreen.
For a very moving video on this topic on YouTube called “Dear 16 year old Me,” click here. Feel free to share this brief but effective video with those you love.