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Let The Sun Shine In – Just Don’t Overdo It

You spent the weekend enjoying the great outdoors, and now you have the sunburn to prove it.

If you aren’t worried about skin cancer (and you should be), think wrinkles, warns Allison Cullan, M.D., a family medicine physician with Creighton Medical Associates.

Down the road, the sun damage you incur now could prematurely age your skin by 10 or more years.

The sun’s rays are harshest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. And, don’t be fooled by a cloudy day; you can burn just as easily as on a sunny one. Even cumulative exposure from years of driving with your sunroof open, can lead to basal-cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer, Cullan said. The cancer most frequently occurs on the head or neck.

So, before heading outside, generously apply a “broad-spectrum,” water-resistant sunscreen with a SPF factor of at least 30 to help protect your skin from both the sun’s UVA rays (cause sunburns) and UVB rays (cause tanning and aging skin), Cullan advises. In particular, remember to apply to the face, neck, back and legs as well as the tops of ears and bald spots.

Don’t worry about spending more for an SPF factor over 50 as there is no evidence it will give you greater protection, Cullan said. And, don’t let the price fool you. A recent Consumer Reports testing of 22 sunscreens found that a brand selling for a mere 59 cents an ounce was more effective than another product retailing at $18.82 an ounce.

She noted that new U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines, which take effect next year, should make it easier for consumers to pick sunscreen products that are best for them.

While sunscreens are getting better all the time, they are not foolproof; plan to apply your sunscreen 20 minutes before you head outdoors and every two hours thereafter, Cullan advises. Combine with other sun-busting strategies as well.

Make clothing with tighter fabric weaves and darker colors, broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses that block 99-100 percent of UVA and UVB radiation part of your summer fashion statement.

In all, there are three types of skin cancer. Basal-cell carcinoma accounts for more than 90 percent of U.S. skin cancer cases. The good news is that it grows slowly and rarely metastasizes or spreads to other parts of the body, although it can cause serious disfigurement in the affected area.

Squamous-cell carcinoma is less common and more likely to metastasize. Melanoma is the most dangerous of the three and the leading cause of death from skin disease.

With any skin cancer, the best outcomes occur when the cancer is identified and treated early, Cullan said.She recommended the ABCDE check-up system when looking for cancerous moles. Normal moles are generally small, symmetrical and have a well defined border. Suspicious moles may have one of more of these characteristics.:

• Asymmetrical. The mole’s two sides do not match.
• Border. The mole’s border is irregular and ill defined.
• Color. Abnormal moles are often uneven in color and can present themselves in a number of colors, including shades of tan, black, brown and even white, red or blue.
• Diameter. The diameter is usually larger than one-fourth inch (the size of a pencil eraser).
• Evolving. Cancerous moles evolve, changing in color, shape and/or size.