Skin Deep

Five key ways to protect yourself from skin cancer

Rachel Gerber of New York City applies sunscreen from a dispenser at 21st Street on Miami Beach, March 13, 2015. The City of Miami Beach is installing 50 sunscreen dispensers throughout the city for public use. The sunscreen dispensers will be placed at public pools, parks and various beach access points near lifeguard stands for all who visit Miami Beach to use, free of charge. The sunscreen being provided in the dispensers is none other than MB Miami Beach Triple Action Sea Kelp Sunscreen Lotion.
Rachel Gerber of New York City applies sunscreen from a dispenser at 21st Street on Miami Beach, March 13, 2015. The City of Miami Beach is installing 50 sunscreen dispensers throughout the city for public use. The sunscreen dispensers will be placed at public pools, parks and various beach access points near lifeguard stands for all who visit Miami Beach to use, free of charge. The sunscreen being provided in the dispensers is none other than MB Miami Beach Triple Action Sea Kelp Sunscreen Lotion. MIAMI HERALD File Photo

With South Florida sweltering under a scorching sun, it’s the perfect time to brush up on sun protection.

Even though melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer, it can easily be prevented and successfully treated, if caught early. It’s critical to take an active role in protecting your skin from the sun.

Here are five key tips:

1. Wear the right sunscreen

Don’t be fooled by high SPFs. Studies have shown that SPFs above 50 do not offer significantly more UV protection than their lower counterparts, but they could give users a false sense of security, according to theSkin Cancer Foundation. A recent Consumer Reports article about sunscreens not living up to their high SPF caused quite a stir.

Consumer Reports followed the testing methods that the FDA uses for water-resistant sunscreens. They had people soak in a tub of water after applying sunscreen before doing the SPF testing. This method is only used when making water-resistant claims. For this reason, I do not agree with all of the statements made by Consumer Reports. Certainly, the sunscreens that the magazine identified as holding up the SPF after water immersion are good choices for sunscreen. However, Consumer Reports recommended only using chemical-containing sunscreens. I am a big fan of chemical-free zinc oxide “mineral” or “physical” sunscreens, but they must be reapplied after immersion in water. I believe that they would have performed much better if the testing had been performed as per FDA guidelines for sunscreens NOT claiming water resistance.

The critical point is this: You MUST reapply sunscreen after water immersion and every 30 minutes — especially when sweating. Also make sure you’re using enough sunscreen. Use about one ounce (a shot glass) of sunscreen to cover the exposed areas of skin on your body and one-half of a teaspoon on the face.

2. Stay away from tanning beds

Indoor tanning beds are not safer than tanning your skin in the sun. In fact, they could be even more harmful, as tanning beds use only UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB rays. Additionally, UVA light does not cause a sunburn, which makes it difficult to know when your skin is becoming damaged. So if you have to choose between tanning beds and natural sunlight, choose 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight.

3. Make a mole map

A large part of skin cancer prevention and early detection involves regularly scanning your body for moles that could be signs of melanoma or other types of skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that you perform regular self-exams and record this information on a mole map.

This way, you will be able to keep track of any changes that you notice in particular moles, as well as easily find any spots that you’d like to talk to your dermatologist about.

4. Remember the ABCDEs of melanoma

When making your mole map, remember to look for the ABCDEs of melanoma:

▪ A: Asymmetry

▪ B: Irregular borders

▪ C: Uneven color

▪ D: Diameter larger than the size of a pencil eraser

▪ E: Evolution, or change, in any of the above characteristics

5. See your dermatologist

Checking in with your dermatologist at least once a year and any time you notice something out of the ordinary about your skin is one of the best things you can do to help prevent skin cancer as early as possible. If you don’t already have a dermatologist that you see regularly, click here to find an STS-approved physician partner in your area.

Dr. Leslie Baumann is a board-certified dermatologist and CEO of Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in Miami.

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