In honor of Skin Cancer Awareness Month, Arturo Saavedra, MD, PhD, MBA, the new medical director for MGH Medical Dermatology, discusses the best way to keep safe from the sun’s rays.
Keeping safe while having fun in the sun
Sailing on the Charles River, strolling through Boston Common, relaxing on Castle Island – spring has finally arrived in the Boston area. But as people head out to have fun in the sun, physicians caution the public to practice sun safety. In honor of Skin Cancer Awareness Month, Arturo Saavedra, MD, PhD, MBA, the new medical director for MGH Medical Dermatology, discusses the best way to keep safe from the sun’s rays.
Q. Data indicates one in five Americans will get skin cancer. What are the best methods of protection?
A. The best way to protect yourself is to try to stay out of the sun. Unprotected skin can be damaged in as little as 15 minutes. Ultraviolet rays, not temperature, do the damage; and sunlight between 11 am and 3 pm is the highest risk. The use of sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 is recommended. Be careful to reapply every two hours if swimming or sweating. The use of protective clothing, which may be purchased with sunscreen impregnated cloth, is used by some people as well. Melanoma is the most common cancer for young adults 25 to 29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for adolescents and young adults 15 to 29 years old. When caught early, skin cancer – including melanoma – is highly treatable.
Q. Do toddlers need special sunscreen or can the entire family use the same SPF?
A. From age 6 months up, sunscreen – again, with an SPF of at least 30 – should be used on any area that would be potentially exposed. In terms of which sunscreen, there are two main categories – physical or chemical. Physical sunscreen works to bounce the light off the skin rather than absorb it and change it chemically. For
those with sensitive skin, a physical sunscreen containing zinc or titanium as active ingredients may be preferable to products with chemical sunscreens.
Q. Is sunscreen necessary late in the day?
A. If you are exposed to UV light, there is always a risk. We recommend some sort of sunscreen protection later in the day, although reapplication of sunscreen may not be necessary.
Q. What type of skin lesion is a sign of trouble?
A. Any new skin lesion that seems unfamiliar – particularly those that offer symptoms such as itching, bleeding or rapid growth – raises concern and should be evaluated by a doctor. Not all skin cancers offer symptoms, so a new skin lesion, whether pigmented or the color of your skin could represent a skin cancer. Dermatologists are uniquely trained to evaluate these lesions and determine the potential that they may represent one of various types of skin cancer. When in doubt, skin biopsies can be performed for diagnosis and to determine the best type of treatment. Patients who have a family history of skin cancer – or who may have had moderate to severe sun exposure earlier in life – would benefit from an initial visit to a dermatologist and perhaps even yearly screening exams. Ask your primary care provider if you should be seen by a dermatologist given your specific circumstances and medical history.
For more information, contact the Medical Dermatology Department at 617-726-2914.
Read more articles from the 05/16/14 Hotline issue.