Caring for Our Skin Is a Lifetime Ritual

By: Laura Gros, RN, CBCN

Patient Care Coordinator, Thibodaux Regional Cancer Institute

Skin is the body's largest organ. It protects our bodies from germs and regulates body temperature. Protecting our skin requires a lifelong ritual of daily selfcare.

Recognizing July as UV Month reminds us to shield the skin from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., with nearly 100,000 Americans diagnosed with melanoma each year.

Despite warnings to avoid damaging sun exposure, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) reports that only a third of Americans are concerned about skin cancer, despite nearly 70% having at least one risk factor.

Risk Factors

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common risk factors for skin cancer include:

  • Lighter natural skin color
  • Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily or becomes painful in the sun
  • Blue or green eyes
  • Blonde or red hair
  • More than 50 moles
  • Family or personal history of skin cancer

Skin Care and Cancer Prevention Tips

To effectively care for our skin, pay attention to any changes, wear sunscreen and treat it gently throughout all life stages. Here are other tips to limit skin cancer risks and slow effects of aging:

  • Apply sunscreen daily. Choose broad-spectrum sunscreens with SPF of 30 or higher to protect from UVA and UVB rays.
  • Wear hats, sun protective clothing and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Heed grandmother's advice—don’t tan indoors or outdoors. When outdoors, avoid peak sun hours, 11 a.m.–4 p.m.
  • Medications for high blood pressure and certain other conditions can affect skin sensitivity especially when exposed to the sun.
  • Manage stress, which can worsen skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Chronic stress also ages the skin.
  • Don't smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and electronic cigarettes age skin faster and pose cancer risks.
  • Wash the face in the morning and at night with gentle cleansers.
  • Apply moisturizing lotions after showering or bathing to prevent dry skin.
  • Perform regular skin and mole checks for changes that may signal skin cancer.

Warning Signs of Melanoma

While there are several types of skin cancers, melanoma is the one that tends to cause the most concern. If detected early, it can be highly curable. There are certain warning signs to watch for with melanoma:

  • Asymmetrical or rough-looking moles not defined by a border.
  • Moles that are darker, look different or recently changed in size or shape.
  • Melanoma most commonly appears on women's arms and legs, and on men's head, neck, back and trunk.
  • Melanoma can appear on body areas not frequently exposed to the sun—palms of the hand, soles of the feet, eyes, mouth, scalp and under the nail bed.
  • Different hues—most cancerous moles are dark brown, but skin cancers can also have blue, red or pink tints; some lose pigmentation and may leave a white halo around a darker spot.
  • Spots that bleed, itch or become painful; or sores that won't heal.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), melanoma is more than 20 times more common in white people than people of color. However, it is often diagnosed at a later, more dangerous stage in Blacks, Hispanics and Asians.

Self-Check Skin Exams

As new spots on the skin can grow and spread quickly, the ACS recommends monthly self-check exams. Detailed instructions on its website include:

  • Stand in front of a full-length mirror in a well-lit room; use a hand-held mirror for areas that are difficult to see.
  • Perform exams after a bath or shower, and check from head to toes.
  • Ask a spouse, partner, family member or close friend to help with the exams.
  • Be familiar with the patterns of moles, blemishes, freckles and birthmarks.
  • Check the face, ears, neck, chest and belly; women should lift their breasts to check the skin underneath.
  • Examine both sides of arms, underarms, tops and palms of hands, fingernails and between the fingers.
  • Examine thighs, shins, calves, feet, between the toes and underneath toenails.
  • Use hand-held mirror to check buttocks, genital area, lower and upper back, and back of neck and ears.
  • Part the hair to check the scalp.

A skin cancer image gallery on the ACS website can help identify skin spots and marks that indicate cancer. If anything appears suddenly, changes in shape or causes any concern, schedule an appointment with a primary care physician or dermatologist.

Contact Thibodaux Regional Cancer Institute at 985.493.4008 for more information.