Know the Skin You're In: Should You Wear Sunscreen?

Spring is here, summer is near, and the sun’s rays will soon be hot – do you need to put on sunscreen?

Author: Jasmine Brown

Family Having Fun on Beach


"Everyone is at risk of skin damage caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) components of sunlight, regardless of their skin color.”

 

This spring and summer, as COVID-pandemic restrictions lift due to increased vaccinations, many Americans are looking to enjoy more time outdoors with family and friends. The bright, warm sunshine is a great reminder to put on sunscreen.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer, affecting one in five Americans before they turn 70 years old. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the more sunburns a person receives, the more chances they may have of developing skin cancer. Every day, more than 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the United States and just over two people die each hour.

The big question: Who should wear sunscreen?

Everyone is at risk of skin damage caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) components of sunlight, regardless of their skin color,” said Tolutope Oyasiji, MD, MRCSI, MHSA, FACS, surgical oncologist at Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint.

Melanin is the skin pigmentation that enriches our skin, visibly seen as a darker skin color or tan. Some people have more melanin than others, which is why our skin colors vary. Melanin is like a natural sunscreen - it helps to provide some protection from the sun. Dr. Oyasiji suggests wearing sunscreen, no matter your skin tone.

“Darker skin color with melanin has reduced risk of UV skin damage but does not exempt any human from skin cancer. Therefore, protection with sunscreen is recommended for everyone.”

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), melanin is produced by melanocytes, a cell found in the skin and eyes. Melanomas can form from the overproduction of melanocytes.

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that is less common but is more likely to spread to lymph nodes and other organs of the body if it is not detected and treated in the early stages.

Other skin cancers include basal cell cancers or carcinomas, squamous cell cancers or carcinomas, merkel cell cancer, skin lymphoma, skin adnexal tumors, and sarcomas.

“Basal cell cancers make up about 80-percent of skin cancer diagnosis, and squamous cell cancers make up nearly 20-percent,” explained Dr. Oyasiji.

According to the ACS, melanomas may appear anywhere on the skin, even in areas that are not exposed by the sun. The most common forms of melanoma appear pink, tan, white, brown, or black. Due to the ability of melanoma to spread to other parts of the body, it is important to know the symptoms so the disease may be caught and treated at an earlier stage.

Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma and Skin Cancer

Unusual moles, sores, lumps, blemishes, markings, or changes in the way an area of the skin looks or feels may be a sign of melanoma or another type of skin cancer. These signs can also be a warning that skin cancer might occur. It is extremely important to know the moles, freckles, and birthmarks on your body, especially their pattern. Be alert if these features change in number, size, shape, or color of the spots on your skin.

Family Walking on the Beach

Dr. Oyasiji suggests looking out for these additional signs and symptoms of melanoma and skin cancer:

  • Rough or scaly red patches, which might crust or bleed
  • Raised growths or lumps, sometimes with a lower area in the center
  • Open sores (which may have oozing or crusted areas) that do not heal, or that heal and then come back
  • Wart-like growths
  • Dark or pigmented skin lesions with irregular edges or color change

The Skin Cancer Foundation suggest performing a self-exam once a month to catch skin cancer early. When you access your skin, keep the ABCDE rule in mind. If you notice these changes, see your health care provider:

A – Asymmetry: One half of a mole or spot does not match the other half.

B - Border: The outside edge is irregular, ragged, or scalloped, and not smooth.

C - Color: The color of the mole is not the same all over. There can be shades of black, brown, white, blue or red.

D – Diameter or Dark: The area is larger than an eraser on the end of a pencil (6mm) or the area is getting larger. Also, if the lesion is darker than others, this may be a sign of skin damage or cancer.

E – Evolving: Any changes or any new symptoms can be a warning sign.

Photos of different types of skin cancers can be found in the ACS’s Skin Cancer Image Gallery.

Who is more at risk of developing melanoma?

“Exposure to UV light damages your skin cell DNA. The genes that control skin cell growth can lead to skin cancer when they are damaged,” explained Dr. Oyasiji. “It is important to limit your exposure to the sun and use sunscreen to protect your skin.”

Melanoma is more than 20 times more common in whites than in African Americans. It is more common in men overall, however, before age 50 the rates are higher in women than in men. The risk of melanoma increases as people age, with the average age of diagnosis being 65, though melanoma is not uncommon even among those younger than 30. In fact, it is one of the most common cancers in young adults.

“You’re also at a high risk if you have light-color, or fair skin, develop sun burns or freckles easily, have red hair, or green eyes,” explained Dr. Oyasiji. “Having an HPV infection that causes skin warts, a previous history of skin cancers, radiation exposure, a weakened immune system and smoking cigarettes can also make you more prone to develop skin cancer when exposed to UV light.”

Skin Cancer Treatment

Dr. Oyasiji treats skin cancers through surgery, including basal cell cancers, squamous cell cancers (carcinomas), melanomas, merkel cell carcinoma, skin adnexal tumors and sarcomas.

“Different surgical techniques can be used,” said Dr. Oyasiji. “The options depend on the type of skin cancer, how large the cancer is, and where it is located on the body, among other factors.”

For more information on skin cancer treatment at Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint, visit karmanos.org/flintcancersurgery.