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Everything You Need to Know About Skin Cancer Prevention

Skin cancer can take many different forms, from a sore that won’t heal, to a pink, scaly patch, to a crusted bump or a darkly pigmented spot. It’s easy to confuse the life-threatening disease for something else, such as a rash or acne, allowing it to go undetected, according to dermatologist and skin cancer expert Dr. Paula Bourelly of Olney Dermatology Associates in Olney, Md., 

To help you identify warning signs and follow best practices for skin cancer prevention, including best sunscreens to wear, Dr. Bourelly shares her tips below. 

“Tanning also places patients at long-term risk of developing certain skin cancers.”

What are the symptoms of skin cancer?

In some cases, skin cancer may be completely asymptotic, while in others, the site may itch, ooze, crust over or even hurt, Dr. Bourelly explains. In situations where skin is eroded (in other words, the outermost layer of the skin has been broken down,) “some people complain of bleeding at the site with minimal trauma.”  

What are the major causes?

One of the biggest causes of skin cancer is unprotected sun exposure. “Many people think  that, because they are wearing sun protection, they are okay, if they tan, but don’t burn,” Dr. Bourelly explains. “We have now learned that tanning also places patients at long-term risk of developing certain skin cancers. This practice, whether in natural sunlight or an artificial source (tanning salons), should simply be avoided.”

“Sun protection is your greatest defense against developing sun-induced skin cancers”

How do we lessen the likelihood of skin cancer?

“Sun protection is your greatest defense against developing sun-induced skin cancers,” Dr. Bourelly says. “Wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 daily can be very protective.” It’s best to apply SPF 30 minutes prior to being outside. “If you expect to be exposed to the sun all day, it is recommended that you re-apply your sunscreen every 3-4 hours to ensure protection,” Dr. Bourelly says. “Many sunscreen products degrade rapidly in the setting of sun exposure, which helps explain why some people who wear sunscreen can still manage to tan or even burn if they remain in direct sunlight for an extended period of time.” She also notes that SPF should be applied to exposed skin daily — even in cold or cloudy climates — which helps reduce the development of unwanted brown spots, textural roughness and other signs of premature aging.