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Protecting your skin during the summer months

June 07, 2010|By DR. TANIA CRUSSIAH / Special to The Herald-Mail

With the summer fast approaching, many people are already making plans for fun in the sun.

While outings to the beach or the park are certainly enjoyable, it is important that people are aware of the danger the sun can cause to the skin.

The ultraviolet rays emitted by the sun can cause a number of serious health problems ranging from mild sunburn to skin cancer. Here are several simple steps you can take to maintain your skin's health this summer.

Know your skin. It is important that you are well aware of your own risk factors for skin health. For example, people with light hair, blue or green eyes, and fair skin are more susceptible to sun damage than individuals with darker complexions. Also, it is important to be aware of your family's history of skin cancer, as it may be a good indicator of what you should expect. Finally, recall your own history, if you burned easily in the past you should probably be extra careful when going outside.

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Protect your skin. The sun's rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. You should do your best to avoid direct sunlight during these times. However, if you are outside, you should cover your skin with tightly woven, loose-fitting clothing. Also, it is important to liberally apply sunscreen, with a SPF greater than 15, once every two hours or after going in the water. Finally, you should make sure to pay special attention to the areas most susceptible to sun damage, your face, neck, and ears, and cover them with a hat.

Check your skin. You should frequently examine your skin for any changes in color, size or shape of a mole on your body. To do this, follow the ABCDE rule:

o Asymmetry - If you draw an imaginary line down the middle of the mole, it does not look the same on either side.

o Borders - The edges of the mole are blurry or jagged.

o Color - The mole has become darker over time.

o Diameter - The mole is greater than 1/4-inch in diameter.

o Elevation - The mole is slightly raised above the skin.

It is critical that you check your skin frequently and make note of these elements for a particular mole so that you can document its change over time. If you are unable to view your entire body with the use of a full-length mirror, enlist a spouse or family member.

Summer activities such as biking, gardening, or swimming expose us to the sun, and we need this exposure because the sun is our primary source of vitamin D. However, it is important that you minimize your risk when going outside by wearing appropriate clothing and vigilantly applying sunscreen. If you do notice a mole that has changed over time, consult your physician right away.

You wouldn't go outside in the rain without an umbrella, or step into blizzard without a coat; so use common sense and protect yourself next time you are in the sun.

Dr. Tania Crussiah is a physician specializing in family medicine with Williamsport Family Practice.

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