Can You Reverse Sun Damage & Prevent Skin Cancer?
Whether it’s the middle of summer or an unseasonably warm fall or winter day, there’s something inspiring about spending time in the warm sun. Both relaxing and uplifting, the sun’s powerful doses of vitamin D have a way of changing our perspective. Unfortunately, the sun’s UV rays also have a way of altering the health of our skin. It is generally agreed amongst professionals in the medical community that the sun is a major factor in the development of various forms of skin cancer in both men and women. Beyond the risks of skin cancer, excessive exposure to the sun is often pointed to as responsible for the development of pigmentation issues, fine lines, and wrinkles that are all considered signs of early aging.
No matter what type of skin you’re in, being aware of the risk associated with sun damage and the development of skin cancer is becoming increasingly more important. Dermatologists and medical professionals recommend that everyone perform a self-examination at least once a month looking for any noticeable changes or concerns across the entirety of skin, paying special attention to moles, birthmarks and sun spots. Beyond this exam, it’s important to schedule an annual checkup so a professional can evaluate your skin as well.
While skin cancer is one of the most preventable and often curable cancers when diagnosed and treated early on, there are steps that need to be taken regularly to prevent skin cancer and detect warning signs as quickly as possible. Early detection is key to eliminating as many risks as possible associated with the development of skin cancer.
The very same steps recommended for preventing or at a minimum detecting skin cancer early on come with the added benefit of contributing to overall skin care and health in the long-term. Men and women are generally equally dedicated to keeping their skin feeling and looking healthy in an effort to keep their skin looking as youthful as possible for as long as possible. Making a preventative skin cancer regime part of a daily routine is an important way to keep skin health top of mind.
What Sun Damage Looks Like
We all want that perfectly tanned look, but prolonged exposure to the sun can lead to increased factors of skin cancer and early aging signs such as wrinkles. Our body responds to UV damage through skin changes, including the appearance of freckles. The body protects itself with a tanning pigment to prevent excessive UV exposure.
Additional damage can lead to harmful enzymes that are able to break down your skin’s collagen and elastic fibers; this damage will appear as thinning skin and more wrinkles across the face. Finally, individuals with prolonged sun exposure will also start to notice their impacted skin areas lined with growing veins. Continuous UV exposure is able to promote growth in our blood vessels. Our bodies will be affected by sun damage for decades after it has occurred. What may start as dry skin and fine lines can lead to these increased damage factors.
Can Sun Damage Be Reversed?
It all depends on who you ask. Some dermatologists believe that in-house treatments such as chemical peels and microdermabrasion reverse sun damage by removing the top layer of your impacted skin. Laser treatments can also reduce the appearance of sunspots on commonly treated areas such as the neck, chest, and hands. Others do not believe the damage can be so easily reversed. While humans have enzymes called photolyases that can repair damaged DNA, it is not as effective in our bodies. Wearing sunscreen with specific DNA damage control can help your skin in producing this enzyme and protecting your skin from overexposure. The bottom line comes down to making sure to treat your skin with care, especially out in the sun. Protecting your skin with sunscreen during peak hours is especially important.
Risks Related to Sun Damage
Of all the potential causes leading to the development of skin cancer, medical professionals point to sun damage as the primary culprit. Whether a short amount of time is spent under UV rays or an extended period of time such as at the beach or under tanning lights, the skin is bound to be damaged and the change in DNA at a cellular level can quickly lead to skin cancer. While excessive exposure to UV rays will often present as a painful sunburn, sunspots are brown or red changes in pigmentation that tend to show up gradually over time.
Brownish spots – also known as solar or senile lentigines – from sun damage.
Dermatology Tips for Safe Sun Exposure
While the highly recommended steps for preventing skin cancer may seem simple, their proven effectiveness makes them an essential component of interaction with the sun and its UV rays. For individuals who are at a high risk of developing skin cancer during their lifetime, these steps are even more vital to maintaining a healthy skin cancer-free lifestyle. Above all, it’s important to avoid UV ray exposure during peak hours of the day. The sun’s rays are the strongest between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm and if at all possible, it’s best to stay out of the sun entirely during this period of time.
If the sun can’t be avoided, it’s important to avoid sunburns. The risk of developing skin cancer rises with every sunburn that’s experienced and even a seemingly insignificant burn carries the potential to cause significant skin damage and potentially the development of cancer. One of the most effective ways to avoid sunburns and the damage caused by UV rays is to regularly wear protective clothing when anticipating time spent outdoors. Long sleeved shirts, hats, and sunglasses are essential apparel, particularly for those who are high-risk for skin cancer development.
Finally, ensuring that sunscreen or sunblock is applied before exposure to the sun is a simple and essential step for protecting skin from UV rays. Individuals at high risk for skin cancer may want to pursue utilizing facial creams, cleansers or makeup that are infused with sunblock as well for added protection and prevention.
Skin Cancer Prevention
While preventative steps such as clothing, sunblock, avoiding the sun and sunburns are important to overall skin health, even St Louis dermatology centers recommend making self-examinations a regular part of a monthly skin health routine as well. Self-examinations should involve a thorough observation of the entire surface of the skin looking for any noticeable changes in moles and skin spots.
In general, both men and women should be on the lookout for moles and skin spots that are asymmetrical, have uneven borders, present with different colors from one side to the other or show signs of changes related to size or texture. If any of these signs are noticed during an exam, it’s important to follow up with a trained physician for verification. In addition to self-examinations, it’s recommended that individuals schedule an annual exam with a physician to ensure that a thorough skin evaluation is completed regularly and any noticeable changes are tracked over time.
Signs and Symptoms Related to Moles
Pigmented cells that present on the skin as small dark spots are referred to as moles. There is a potential for moles to present in a variety of color and sizes, but the majority of moles show up initially during childhood. The average individual has anywhere from 10 to 40 moles on their body. The majority of moles on the human body are found to be harmless. As long as a mole remains true to its original size and color, there’s not much reason for concern. Some individuals who are particularly prone to moles may choose to have them removed at some point due to general discomfort, aesthetics or wanting to eliminate the worry surrounding the potential for future skin cancer development.
Where moles become concerning is when they begin to fluctuate in any way at all. Moles that change in size, color or texture should be examined by a physician as soon as possible. Similarly, moles that present with irregular edges or borders may need to be biopsied or removed depending on how progressive the condition is.
Be Cautious with Birthmarks
Arriving as soon as we’re born, birthmarks clearly aren’t caused by exposure to the sun but can become a problem later on in life if the version of birthmark carried isn’t identified early on. While birthmarks such as port wine stains and strawberry marks carry no risk of developing into cancer, those known as Congenital Gian Melanocytic Nevus come with a high risk of eventually transforming into Melanoma. While Melanoma is the least frequently diagnosed form of skin cancer compared to Squamous Cell Carcinoma or Basal Cell Carcinoma, it is by far the deadliest. Melanoma comes with a risk of quickly spreading to other areas of the body if left untreated for an extended period of time.
Birthmark or Benign Congenital Nevus
Start Your Journey to Overall Skin Health
The number of men and women diagnosed with some form of skin cancer has steadily been rising with each passing year in the United States. Whether it’s Squamous Cell Carcinoma, Basal Cell Carcinoma or the deadliest version known as Melanoma, the chances of developing one of these cancer variations is more likely than ever. When it comes to fighting and treating skin cancer, early detection is key. Part of being able to get a head start on skin cancer is recognizing the symptoms and signs that are often associated with skin markings such as moles, sun spots and even birthmarks. While some individuals such as those with fair skin are automatically placed at a higher risk for developing skin cancer at some point during their lifetime, it’s important that individuals of all skin types take the time to know and recognize the potential warning signs. Whether you are a person prone to moles, freckles and sun spots or only sport very few, making regular skin examination a regular part of your skincare routine is a good way to stay ahead of a skin cancer diagnosis down the line.
Prospective patients that are interested in scheduling a skin cancer screening, have questions about self-examinations, want to schedule an annual exam, are looking for a dermatologist in the St Louis area, or require skin cancer treatment will find a comprehensive list of options with Dr. Wright and his team at the St. Louis Laser Lipo and Vein Center. Dr. Wright is one of the top dermatologists in St Louis. Our team prides itself on taking a comprehensive approach to all forms of patient care and are dedicated to making sure that each and every patient enjoys a safe, comfortable and successful experience at our clinic. Contact us today for more information on how skincare, St Louis dermatology, and skin cancer preventative services can put you on a path for lifelong healthy skin.