Must-Read, Life-Saving Advice About Melanoma

Must-Read, Life-Saving Advice About Melanoma

Wide-brimmed hats offer added sun protection for the face, ears, and the back of the neck. Baseball caps and sun visors aren't recommended as they leave the ears and the back of the neck exposed.

Did you know that melanoma is the deadliest skin cancer—but, when caught early, it's a treatable cancer? With the start of summer right around the corner and May being Melanoma Awareness Month, I wanted to share some important facts about skin cancer (please read them and share them as this information is so critical to your—and your family and friends'—health).

Myth: Most moles are cancerous.

Not true. Moles are common. Almost everyone has a few, and some people develop hundreds. Individuals with light skin tend to have more moles, with the average ranging from 10 to 40. And not all moles look alike. Even in the same individual, moles can differ in size, shape, or color—and they can be raised or flat. Moles can even have hair.

While not all moles are cancerous, you should have a yearly mole check with a dermatologist to be sure yours are okay (particularly if you have a family history of skin cancer and/or have had a lot of sun exposure in the past). In the meantime, though, perform monthly skin checks to keep an eye out for these ABCDEs of melanoma:

A stands for asymmetry. When one half is unlike the other half, call your dermatologist.

B stands for border. Irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined borders are all concerning.

C stands for color. Varied color from one area to another, shades of tan and brown, black, for example (and even white, red, or blue).

D stands for diameter. Melanomas are usually greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser), but they can be smaller.

E stands for evolving. A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or color is a reason to call your dermatologist.

"Moles should not change. A mole that is changing in size, shape, or color is a reason to call your dermatologist."

Myth: If you're spending less than 15 minutes outside, you don't need sunscreen.

Not true. You need sun protection, every day, cloudy or sunny—whether you're spending 5 minutes or 5 hours in the sun. I'm a big proponent of applying some sort of sun protection in the morning, every day, so when you head outside, even for 5 minutes, you're protected.

This type of incidental sun exposure (5 minutes here, 5 minutes there over the course of a lifetime) is one key cause of premature aging of the skin—and even skin cancer. The sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays trigger the production of free radicals in the skin; it's these free radicals that trigger wrinkles, rough skin, and hyperpigmentation—all signs of skin's premature aging.

Sunscreen can block these UV rays, preventing them from penetrating the skin—why any sun exposure is bad exposure in my book. Worried about getting enough vitamin D—the sun vitamin? I recommend eating a healthy diet rich in foods that contain vitamin D (like salmon, sardines, and dairy). You can also take a supplement if you can't get enough vitamin D—600 to 800 IU daily is recommended— from your diet. These are much safer options than sitting, unprotected, for any length of time in the sun.

What is also critical: antioxidants. They are the only things that can actually neutralize free radicals, returning them to a less damaging state. This is why I believe so strongly in my own REPLERE products: they contain the highest amounts of free-radical-reversing antioxidants on the market. I use them regularly on myself and on my family, particularly the REPLERE Protect & Rejuvenate Day Lotion and the REPLERE Repair & Replenish Night Crème (which also is the perfect healing antidote for skin at night when you've gotten too much sun during the day); both are shown above. Always layer antioxidants under a sunscreen so you get double the protection.

"Antioxidants have been shown to protect and reverse the damage that we receive from sun exposure."

Myth: Skin cancer can only appear on the face, back, chest, arms, and legs.

This is true, but skin cancer can also appear in less-common spots like on the scalp, between the fingers and the toes, on the palms and soles of the feet, under the nails, on the ears, and even on the eyelids and genitals. Be sure to examine your entire body monthly (use a mirror to check your scalp and your genitals) for irregular moles—and have your dermatologist check you yearly.

Myth: When you get skin cancer, it's deadly.

This is true, but only if it's caught too late. The statistics tell us that one person dies of melanoma every hour, but this very important to note: if you catch skin cancer early enough (through regular self exams and dermatologist checks), it is treatable and doesn't have to be deadly.

"Reduce your sun exposure, and you'll reduce your risk of skin cancer dramatically. In fact, your risk of melanoma increases if you've had five or more sunburns in your lifetime."

With that said, here are my tips on staying safe in the sun this coming weekend—and all summer (and year) long:

√ Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen. Your sunscreen should protect against ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B (UVA/UVB) rays, should be water-resistant, and should have a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or more. Regular daily use sunscreen reduces your risk of developing melanoma by 50 percent.

√ Apply sunscreen to all exposed skin, and re-apply every 2 hours, even on cloudy days and after swimming and sweating.

√ Wear protective clothing such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide brimmed hat, and wide sunglasses—labeled as 100% UV protective—whenever possible. Also look for sun-protective fabrics (these will say they have a UPF protection factor).

√ Seek shade when appropriate. Remember that the sun's rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

√ Protect children from sun exposure by encouraging them to play in the shade, dressing them in protective clothing, and applying sunscreen regularly.

√ Use extra caution near water and sand (as well as near snow and ice, in the winter) as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn.

√ Avoid tanning beds as ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can trigger skin cancer and cause premature wrinkling.

So if you're planning on getting away to the beach for Memorial Day Weekend—or any time this summer—or just plan to spend time outdoors, do your skin a favor and slather up.

Have fun, stay safe,