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Focus On…Protection from the Sun

July 2, 2020
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with Dr. Kristina Campton

After being cooped up in the house for the spring due to COVID-19, it’s great to be outside in the sun. But the summer sun is strong, and can damage your skin. I always tell my patients to follow the Australian rule for being in the sun: slip, slap, slop.

Slip on sunglasses. Slap on a hat. Slop on sunscreen.

Sunscreen is important, regardless of your skin type or color. Most people don’t put enough on if they remember to use it. There’s no specific type or brand I recommend, but I encourage an SPF of 55 or more, and always tell people to reapply it frequently. If you’re exercising or at the beach, one application definitely isn’t enough.

Sunscreen can help you avoid wrinkles, fine lines, and skin laxity that will eventually come with age. But that’s all cosmetic — sun damage can have an impact on your health and safety. Skin cancer is a real threat, but a survivable one if you know what to look for.

It’s easy to remember ABCD. Look for spots on your skin that are:

A — asymmetrical

B — have an irregular or changing border

C — change color

D — change diameter

Skin cancers don’t grow quickly, which is why watching growths on your skin over time is important. There are three types of skin cancer: basal and squamous growths rarely metastasize, but you’ll want to deal with them early. They’re only locally invasive, so if they need to be removed, you’ll have a better cosmetic result the sooner you do it.

Melanoma cancers are more dangerous. They need to be surgically removed, with possible further treatment, such as chemotherapy.

The sooner you catch a melanoma the better chance you have of averting a tragedy. The five-year melanoma survival rate is 91% for white people, but only 65% for Black people. Melanomas are rare in people of color, but they are generally diagnosed later. The legendary Bob Marley unfortunately died of melanoma.

There are all kinds of other types of skin conditions that aren’t cancerous, but that require attention. Things like scaly rough patches that never seem to heal, or a small pimple that bleeds over the course of a few months. The bottom line is if you have any questions about your skin, you should see a dermatologist. It’s our job to know if what you’re seeing is dangerous.

You can be in the sun safely. It’s just a balance — and you need the vitamin D the sun delivers. Just be aware of what’s happening with your skin, and always wear more sunscreen than you think you need to!

If you have concerns, to schedule an appointment with a dermatologist, log onto your MyCare Portal or call 212-749-1820.