By Theta S. Pattison, MD
November is Healthy Skin Month. You might think it is strange to have November be Healthy Skin Month since so much media stresses that the summer sun is the greatest enemy of the skin, but taking good care of your skin should be a year-round focus for all of us. The skin is our largest organ and it protects the rest of our body all through the year. The designation of November as Healthy Skin Month is an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of keeping the skin healthy all year.
Unless you have been living in a cave, you almost certainly have heard about the importance of protecting your skin from the sun through the use of sunscreen and avoiding prolonged exposure to the sun. You also have probably heard that sun exposure may cause skin cancers, wrinkles, aging of the skin and other skin damage. This is all true and the American Academy of Dermatology has published some statistics that support recommendations to protect your skin from this exposure:
1. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States.
2. Current estimates are that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
3. More than 8,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day.
4. It is estimated that 144,860 new cases of melanoma, 68,480 noninvasive (in situ) and 76,380 invasive, will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2016.
5. Melanoma rates in the United States doubled from 1982 to 2011.
6. Melanoma is the second most common form of cancer in females ages 15 to 29.
7. Before age 50, melanoma incidence rates are higher in women than in men, but by age 60, rates are twice as high in men. See www.aad.org/media/stats/conditions/skin-cancer.
A great resource regarding skin care and the prevention and detection of skin cancers is the website of the American Academy of Dermatology (www.aad.org) which provides expert tips on the care of your skin, hair and nails.
Ways to protect your skin
Obviously, there is good reason to protect your skin from sun exposure but the next question is how to do that. There are five generally recommended ways to protect your skin from sun damage:
1. Wear sunscreen every day and reapply as needed.
2. Wear sun-protective clothing (hats, long-sleeve shirts and long pants).
3. Avoid sun exposure between the hours of 10am and 2pm when the sun’s rays are strongest.
4. Seek shade and remain in shade when possible.
5. Do not use tanning beds.
Alternatively, you could become nocturnal, but that is just not realistic! When it comes to protecting your skin from the sun, do what is realistic for you. Not everyone can avoid the sun between 10am and 2pm, but then you should pay even more attention to wearing sun protective clothing and sunscreen. The important thing is to do what you can realistically do to protect your own skin.
Keep skin healthy in winter
Although avoiding excessive sun exposure is the most important task in protecting your skin, there are reasons to focus on other means of keeping your skin healthy and to take these steps during the upcoming winter months. Cold winter winds and indoor heating can cause dry, itching and irritated skin. Many people will even suffer chapped skin that can crack and bleed during winter months. Regularly moisturizing your skin can help prevent and treat these conditions. Also, do not forget your lips. Chapped lips can often be painful or bleed. Applying lip balm during colder months can prevent and treat this problem. Another technique to keep your skin hydrated in winter is to limit baths or showers to less than 10 minutes. It appears counter-intuitive but water actually dries out your skin by removing its natural oils. Long baths or showers remove enough of those oils to contribute to dry, itchy skin. And even in winter, the sun causes skin damage so you should practice sun protective behaviors in winter too.
Know your skin
Perhaps the most important tip we can give is to KNOW YOUR SKIN. Pay attention to moles and odd spots on your skin and note any changes to these spots or new spots that develop. Perform monthly skin checks to look for any new or changing skin conditions or spots. Changes in these spots might indicate skin cancer. Performing these checks is important because the early detection and treatment of skin cancer can be a life-saver:
1. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, the two most common forms of skin cancer, are highly curable if detected early and treated properly.
2. The five-year survival rate for people whose melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes is 98 percent. See www.aad.org/media/stats/conditions/skin-cancer.
Follow your ABCDEs
• When checking your skin, it is useful to pay attention to the “ABCDEs of Melanoma” which means that the traits you look for during your skin check are:
A = Asymmetry – If a spot is not symmetrically shaped, it is more likely to be cancerous.
B = Borders – The borders of a skin cancer tend to be uneven and not smooth.
C = Color – More than one color indicates the spot is more likely to be cancerous.
D = Diameter – If the spot is larger than a pencil eraser it is more likely to be cancerous.
E = Evolving – Any change in size, color or bleeding indicates the spot is more likely to be cancerous.
Again, KNOW YOUR SKIN. Know about, keep track of, and take care of whatever skin conditions you might have because you only have one skin to live in!
The office of Theta S. Pattison, MD, is located at 2508 Western Avenue, Altamont; 690-0177; www.thetapattison.com