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Skin Cancer Facts: 10 Steps to Keep Skin Safe in and Out of the Sun

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Skin cancer facts: Skin Caner  is the most common cancer in the United States, and each year more than 1 million cases are diagnosed. And with over 90 percent of melanomas being caused by the sun’s ultraviolet radiation (UVR), there are steps you should take to protect yourself. Dr. Jeanine Downie of the Skin Cancer Foundation shares these guidelines to help you stay safe in and out of the sun:

Seek the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
That’s when the sun’s rays are usually strongest. If you’re outside, head for the shady side of the street, or use a sun umbrella. Indulge in your favorite outdoor activities in early morning or late afternoon. Try the beach at sunset, for example.

Do not burn.
Even one sunburn increases your risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form ofskin cancer; five or more sunburns doublesyour lifetime risk.

Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
No tan is safe, whether it comes from the beach or the salon. Tanned skin is a sign that DNA has been damaged by UVR. Damage can lead to mutations that increase the risk of skin cancer.

Tanning bed users are also at higher risk of developing skin cancer, since the sunlamps in tanning salons produce UVR doses as much as 12 times that of the sun.

Cover up.
Clothing is an effective form of sun protection, so cover up with densely woven and bright- or dark-colored fabrics. Wraparound UV-blocking sunglasses help prevent conditions including cataracts and melanomas of the eye and eyelid, and wide-brimmed hats protect the face and back of the neck.

Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day.
A sunscreen’s SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, measures how long unprotected skin can be exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays before burning compared with how long it takes to burn without protection. A sunscreen with an SPF of 15 would prevent sunburn 15 times longer than if the product weren’t used.

But a high SPF alone is not enough, since SPF doesn’t measure defense against the sun’s ultraviolet A (UVA) rays, which can also cause damage.  So make sure your sunscreen has one or more of these UVA-protecting ingredients: titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone or ecamsule (aka Mexoryl™ SX). Sunscreen should be worn every day, since even on overcast days most of the sun’s UVR can penetrate clouds.

Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside.
You have to apply enough sunscreen to get adequate protection. Be sure to reapply after two hours in the sun, or if you’ve been exercising heavily or swimming.

Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of 6 months.
Babies have little melanin, the pigment that gives color to skin, hair and eyes and provides some sun protection. But since infants’ delicate skin is too sensitive for sunscreen, protect those under 6 months with long sleeves, pants and sun hats as well as sun umbrellas or hooded strollers. Sunburns can lead to serious illness in babies and toddlers.

Examine your skin head-to-toe once every month.

Here’s how:

  • In front of a full-length mirror, inspect your head and face, using a blow dryer to check your scalp.
  • Check your hands, nails, arms, torso and trunk.
  • With your back to the mirror, use a hand mirror to check your back and other hard-to-see places.
  • Sitting down, check your legs and feet, including soles, heels, toes and nails. Use the hand mirror to examine your genitals.

Look for skin changes of any kind. Cancer warning signs include:

  • a spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, erode or bleed
  • an open sore that does not heal within two weeks
  • a skin growth, mole, beauty mark or brown spot that:
    -changes color
    -changes texture
    -increases in size or thickness
    -is asymmetrical
    -has an irregular border
    -is bigger than 6mm, the size of a pencil eraser
    -appears after age 21

See your physician every year for a skin exam.
Most skin cancers are curable if caught early, so have aregular total-body checkup to make sure your skin is — and stays — healthy.

If you haven’t seen your physician lately, you can jointhe Road to Healthy Skin Tour for a free exam. To find out more about the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Road to Healthy Skin tour, go to: www.skincancer.org

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints