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Heading outside? Be sun smart

As August becomes sultry and thoughts turn to beating the heat, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center experts are encouraging people to consider a few sun safety tips before they head out to their favorite beach or the neighborhood pool to cool down.

Puneet Jolly, MD, PhD, a UNC Lineberger member and assistant professor of dermatology in the UNC School of Medicine, says people can limit their exposure to the sun’s unhealthy ultraviolet rays by using sunscreen, wearing sun-protective clothing and limiting their time in the sun. It is also important, he adds, to know the early signs of skin cancer and melanoma.

Sunscreen is only effective when used properly and regularly. Jolly says it is important to use an adequate amount and to use it on all exposed skin surfaces. He encourages people to use the “teaspoon rule” – apply one teaspoon per exposed surface, including the face, each arm, chest, back, abdomen, each leg – every two to three hours outside. Be sure the sunscreen has an SPF rating of 30 or higher and protects against UVA and UVB rays. Also, use sunscreen when outdoors on overcast days because UV rays can still cause damage.

Sun-protective clothing
“People should consider wearing sun-protective clothing and wide-brimmed hats,” says Jolly. “Similar to the sun protection factor scale used to rate sun screen, sun-protective fabric is rated for its effectiveness to protect against UV rays. Fabrics with a UPF of 25 or higher are protective against 96 percent of harmful UV rays.”

Sun exposure
Avoid being in direct sunlight during peak midday hours, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., when the UV rays are most intense.

Signs of skin cancer
The American Cancer Society estimates that more than one million people in the United States are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. The three most common kinds of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.
• Basal cell skin cancers can often appear as new pink patches, shiny bumps or sores that won’t heal.
• Squamous cell carcinomas can appear as scaly, tender patches or firm bumps
• Melanomas can come from existing moles or brand new spots.

To help identify irregular moles or melanomas, remember “ABCDE”:
A – Asymmetry – One half of the mole is unlike the other side.
B – Border – irregular, jagged or blurred edges.
C – Color – the mole has multiple colors. There may be shades of pink, red, black or blue.
D – Diameter – moles larger than 6mm (pencil eraser) are concerning.
E – Evolving – mole is changing in size, shape or color.

Jolly says people should regularly check their skin from head to toe for abnormalities. “It’s important for people to become familiar with their freckles, moles and skin blemishes,” says Jolly. “That way, if they notice anything unusual, they can contact their doctor. It might not be anything serious, but skin cancer tends to be highly treatable when caught early.”