By Laura Lauzon, Park Ridge Health Home Health
The skin protects against heat, sunlight, injury and infection. Skin also helps control body temperature and stores water and fat. The skin has several layers. Skin cancer begins in the epidermis (outer layer) which is made up of squamous cells, basal cells and melanocytes.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer. UV radiation can also come from tanning booths or sunlamps. UV damage can also cause wrinkles and blotches or spots on your skin. The good news is that skin cancer can be prevented, and it can almost always be cured when it’s found and treated early.
Anyone can get skin cancer. The risk is highest for people with:
- White or light-colored skin with freckles
- Blond or red hair
- Blue or green eyes
You are at higher risk for the most dangerous type of skin cancer (melanoma) if you have:
- Unusual moles (moles that change color, grow unevenly, or change in texture)
- A high number of moles (more than 50)
- A family history of melanoma
The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun and other sources of ultraviolet (UV) rays. To protect your skin:
- Stay in the shade as much as possible between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher
- Cover up with long sleeves, long pants or a skirt, a hat and sunglasses
- Avoid indoor tanning
Why do I need to protect my skin?
Protecting your skin today may help prevent skin cancer later in life. Most skin cancer appears after age 50, but skin damage from the sun can start during childhood.
Taking steps to prevent skin cancer may also help prevent:
- Blotches or spots on your skin
- Other damage to your skin and eyes
Check your skin regularly.
Use mirrors. The best place to do a skin self-exam is in a well-lit room in front of a mirror. The best time is right after a shower or a bath. Examine your skin from head to toe. Use a hand mirror to check hard-to-see areas like your back. You may want to ask a friend or relative to check your scalp (under your hair). Speak with your doctor as soon as possible if you find any changes that worry you.
The National Cancer Institute