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Steps to reduce your risk of skin cancer

Tips from a survivor

As a dermatologist, I’ve always been dedicated to the health of my patients’ skin. However, as a patient and two-time melanoma survivor myself, I’m an even more passionate advocate for the prevention and early detection of melanoma.

Woman applying sunscreen

Each of us has the power to reduce our risk of developing melanoma through sensible sun practices and to prevent life-threatening melanoma with early detection. Although one American dies per hour from melanoma, when caught in the earliest stages, melanoma is almost 100 percent curable. My advice is to become familiar with the moles on your body through monthly self-skin exams. Through this practice, you'll be able to recognize any spots that change over time. If you do notice a change, run, don't walk, to your dermatologist for evaluation. Acting quickly might just save your life. Below are my sun safety tips to help you enjoy the summer season!

  • I am a big supporter of physical sunscreens. Zinc provides great coverage for both UVA and UVB protection so it is not necessary to do both chemical and physical sunscreens. Simply wearing a physical sunscreen should be sufficient.
  • A good rule of thumb is that approximately a shot-glass full of sunscreen is needed for the whole body. Don't skimp; otherwise, you're not going to be getting the intended amount of SPF that's written on the bottle.
  • Avoid the sun between peak hours (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), use broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher and reapply every two to three hours while in direct sun. Wear hats, sunglasses and do your best to seek shade when possible.
  • The risk from the sun is cumulative, so it's always a good idea to wear sunscreen every day, no matter how old you are or how much previous sun damage you have. The majority of what is considered aging skin is from the sun. If patients don't believe me, I always tell them to compare the skin on their chest to the skin on their bum. That usually triggers an "aha" moment.
  • In your 20s, the most important thing is to protect the skin by not subjecting it to excessive sun exposure and tanning salons. Over one million people visit a tanning salon in the U.S. on a daily basis -- the vast majority being Caucasian women under 35. Many of them are trying to "get a base tan," but they are increasing their risk of skin cancer dramatically, accelerating the aging process and causing wrinkles, so just don't do it. Get a spray tan so you look great and don't ruin your skin.

Elizabeth Tanzi, M.D. is an internationallyknown author and lecturer on cosmetic dermatology and laser surgery. She is the co‐director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Washington, D.C. and serves on the clinical faculty in the Department of Dermatology at the Johns Hopkins Medical Center. Dr. Tanzi has also served as a consulting dermatologist to L'Oreal USA to assist in the development of advanced skin care products. Her contributions to the field of dermatology and her personal battle with skin cancer have been featured in many media outlets including The Dr. Oz Show, The New York Times, Vogue, and many more.

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