Posted: Feb 03, 2013 4:00 PM
Put this at the top of your skin care to-do list: Make an appointment with a dermatologist to get a skin cancer check. This quick and easy procedure will not only give you peace of mind, but it will help you know your skin better.

Did you know that, at the very least, you should be getting checked for skin cancer every two to three years? But if you have a family history or a high sun exposure lifestyle, you should be checked once per year. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. So listen up, mamas, because we're giving you the 411 on what you need to know to protect yourself (and your kids) against this disease.

The 411 on skin cancer

Did you know that even if you only experience one sunburn in your life it can put you at risk? According to Walter Quan, Jr., MD, Chief of Medical Oncology and Melanoma Specialist Cancer Treatment Centers of America, "Even one incidence of a bad sunburn places a person at risk for skin cancer in their lifetime."

Other important Facts^

  • Skin cancer does not hurt.
  • People at any age must avoid getting sun burned.
  • It is possible that certain foods can help protect you from cancer: citrus fruits (lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits), avocados, carrots, pumpkin seeds, sweet potatoes and cantaloupe.
  • It is very important to protect your skin from UV rays year-round, not just during the summer months.
  • Be sure to protect your face, scalp, neck and ears with moisturizer that contains SPF, and apply a lip balm that has an SPF of 15 or higher. Wear dark colors and hats with wide brims for additional protection.
  • Research shows that patients find approximately 50 percent of melanomas. So, it's important to find a doctor who listens to your concerns.

Self-checks are good, but not good enough

Dr. Oscar Hevia, a cosmetic dermatologist says, "You should be doing self checks, but of course, you can never be as accurate in detection as your dermatologist. Also, please remember you cannot thoroughly inspect all areas of your body by yourself."

Apply the A,B,C,D rules and see your dermatologist if you have a concerns:

  • A = Asymmetry: The mole should be symmetric (i.e. the left and right sides should look the same).
  • B = Border: The edges or borders of the mole should be regular and smooth, not scalloped or irregular.
  • C = Color: Your moles should be an even brown or dark-brown color; not red, black, or different colors within the same mole, which is worse.
  • D = Diameter: as a rule, moles should be smaller than a pencil eraser.

And don't just check the obvious places! Dr. Gary Goldberg, Assistant Professor, Dermatology and Pathology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine adds, "The skin check should be complete and include examination of hair, scalp, eyelids, and the entire skin surface, including breasts, genital area and buttocks, between the toes and fingers. I recommend all my patients to perform monthly skin checks at home. I tell all my female patients to perform self skin exams on the same day they perform self breast exams, making it easy to remember."

Does trying to understand S-P-F make you say H-U-H?

sunscreen bottlesHave you ever stood in the aisle of your drugstore, staring at the dozens of sunscreen options, scratching your head in confusion? Well if so, you're definitely not alone. Dr. Hevia to breaks it down for us:

  • Look for sunscreens that contain chemicals (e.g., octocrylene, oxybenzone, etc.), which absorb ultraviolet rays and/or very tiny particles (e.g., zinc oxide, titanium oxide) that reflect or scatter ultraviolet rays.
  • The best sunscreens are labeled broad spectrum, which means they protect from both the burning rays (UVB) and the tanning rays (UVA). Although both chemical and physical sunscreens can do this, physical sunscreens are considered safer since they are devoid of certain chemical ingredients that are felt by some to be unsafe.

And once you've purchased the best sunscreen for your skin, how often should you apply it? "This depends on the setting. Under recreational settings, the sunscreen should be applied at least twice during the day, and even more if you are bathing. Daily wear sunscreens can be applied once in the morning, provided your occupation does not require you to be outdoors regularly," says Golberg.

How you can protect your child's skin

Experts urge you to have them avoid [the sun] between 10am-4pm.

Are you slathering your child with sun screen in the summer but failing to do so in the winter? It's time to step up your game when it comes to your child's sun protection. He'll thank you later! I've had patients say to me, 'If only my mother would have told me to stay out of the sun, then maybe I wouldn't be here right now in your office.' Parents should generate a culture of safety for their children when it comes to sun exposure," says Dr. Hevia.

So what are the best things you can do to protect your little ones skin? Experts agree that the best way to protect skin is to avoid the sun. But because that's not the most realistic option because of sports and outdoor activities, experts urge you to have them avoid it between 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Still can't do that? Put sunscreen on them and reapply every few hours.

You can also enroll your child in an early detection program, such as MoleSafe, to monitor existing and new moles and lesions are essential in keeping you and your skin healthy all year long. "MoleSafe, the world's most advanced melanoma screening program, is an effective and affordable early detection screening program for people at risk for skin cancer," says Dr. Richard Bezozo, the CEO of Care Station Medical Group and President of Molesafe.

More about sun protection

Sunscreen: Friend or foe?
SPF swimsuits: Help or hype?
Summer skin care tips