May is melanoma month, so it’s the perfect time to raise awareness about the dangers of tanning, both indoors and out. Over the years, we’ve become more aware that indoor tanning beds are just as dangerous as spending the afternoon lounging on a lawn chair catching some sun. That’s because the ultraviolet radiation from the sun and indoor tanning beds is the most preventable cause of all skin cancers, including melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer.
Melanoma develops in the cells that produce melanin, which is the pigment that gives our skin its color. It’s also the most serious type of skin cancer, and every year its level of occurrence is increasing in people under 40. While exposure to UV rays increases your likelihood of developing melanoma, the exact cause isn’t clear.
Top 10 Facts About Melanoma
- One American dies every hour from melanoma.
- Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and appears on the skin as a spot that can look like a black freckle or mole, but it can actually be colorless as well (though this is an infrequent occurrence).
- Melanoma most frequently shows up on the upper back, torso, lower legs, head, and neck.
- Melanoma is the most common cancer in 25 to 29-year-olds and is the second most common in teens and young adults ages 15 – 29.
- The increase in melanoma in young adults is thought to be due to indoor tanning.
- The best way to prevent melanoma is to stop tanning and wear sunscreen, protective clothing, and a hat.
- If you have melanoma, your best chance of surviving is finding it on the skin before it has spread to the lymph nodes.
- Regularly check your moles for changes: changing color, shape, or size.
- If you think your mole is changing, make an appointment with a dermatologist to have it checked.
- Go to SpotSkinCancer.org to learn more about skin cancer and find a free skin cancer screening near you.
Myths About Melanoma
- Myth: Skin cancer only affects people with fair skin. This is a dangerous myth because the truth is that skin cancer affects all skin tones, so it is important for everyone to get their skin and moles checked regularly.
- Myth: An annual physical is good enough. Melanoma can become deadly in as little as six weeks! That’s why it’s important to stay proactive and keep an eye on your freckles, spots, and moles. If you see one that starts to change or become suspicious, it’s time to visit your doctor.
- Myth: Skin cancer only affects areas where you’ve had a bad sunburn. This myth prevents people from checking all of their moles, not just the ones that are in sun-exposed areas. It’s true – melanoma is more common in your uncovered areas, but it can also appear on the soles of your feet, on your toenail and fingernail beds, and even in your eye or in your mucous membranes!
The ABCs of Melanoma
When checking out your new or existing moles, it can be hard to know what’s normal and what isn’t. When trying to identify a problem spot, we’ll look to information from the Mayo Clinic and “think of the letters ABCDE:
- A is for asymmetrical shape. Look for moles with irregular shapes, such as two very different-looking halves.
- B is for irregular border. Look for moles with irregular, notched, or scalloped borders — characteristics of melanomas.
- C is for changes in color. Look for growths that have many colors or an uneven distribution of color.
- D is for diameter. Look for new growth in a mole larger than 1/4 inch (about 6 millimeters).
- E is for evolving. Look for changes over time, such as a mole that grows in size or that changes color or shape. Moles may also evolve to develop new signs and symptoms, such as new itchiness or bleeding.
Cancerous (malignant) moles vary greatly in appearance. Some may show all of the changes listed above, while others may have only one or two unusual characteristics.”
Why Tanning Beds Are Dangerous
For some reason, many believe that using a tanning bed is safer than tanning in the sun. This just isn’t true. Unfortunately, your risk of getting melanoma is higher if you started indoor tanning in your teens or as a young adult. The intensity of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from tanning beds makes it more dangerous than the sun.
Protect Your Face with a Hat
If you’re going to have a summer outdoors there are steps you can take to protect yourself from dangerous UV rays. Consider starting with a hat to help cover your head and face, giving a protective boost to your sunscreen. Great hats with UPF 50+ ratings can be purchased online at our favorite sun hat company Gigi pip.
Alternative to Tanning
Instead of laying in the sun or using a tanning bed to attain a bronzed look, use a self-tanning product that contains the active ingredient dihydroxyacetone (DHA). Dihydroxyacetone is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is safe to use. Here are our four favorite self-tanning products.
It’s becoming more common to find clothing that has SPF protection so you can protect your exposed areas more effectively. Here are some of our favorite sun shirts: