Theresa, our resident skin expert and endurance athlete (a 7x Boston Qualifier, 2x Ironman finisher & 70.3 Ironman World Championship qualifier...huh yeah, she’s legit...) gives us a quick lesson on keeping our skin healthy. Also learn the skin signs we all need to be looking out for.
She shares more sun safety tips throughout the month including advice for athletes when training & competing outdoors and exactly what to expect during an annual skin check. SPOILER!!! it’s not scary at all!
Theresa Helsel, PA Dermatologist
Hi everyone! I am really excited to team up with the great folks at Zealios for Ginger Awareness Month! I'm here to give a firsthand look into my world as a Dermatology PA and some of the ways all of us, including Gingers, can make more informed decisions regarding sun protection.
Let’s start with a little science…
If you think back to science class, we were taught about the electromagnetic spectrum. A very small portion of the spectrum involves visible light, and when these wavelengths of light are reflected, we perceive them as colors.
However, the vast majority of what makes up the electromagnetic spectrum is invisible to the naked eye and this includes ultraviolet or UV light. UV light can be divided into UVA, UVB, and UVC light. The majority of UVC light is absorbed by the ozone layer and doesn’t reach the earth, but UVA and UVB both penetrate the atmosphere and are the main cause of sun damage to our skin.
Photo via simplysunscreen.com
So, how does UV radiation ultimately cause skin cancer? By definition, cancer is abnormal cells growing at an abnormal rate. These cells become abnormal because UV radiation damages cellular DNA. These changes to the DNA lead to genetic mutations which ultimately lead to skin cancer.
What’s the difference between UVA and UVB rays?
Both UVA and UVB radiation can cause skin cancer. UVA rays have a longer wavelength and penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB, and although they are technically less intense, they account for nearly 95% of UV radiation. They can penetrate clouds and glass and their intensity is pretty consistent during all daylight hours. UVA rays are the primary “tanning rays” which is why most tanning beds use UVA radiation.
Photo via skincancer.org
A tan is the result of injury to skin cell DNA. The skin darkens as a way of trying to protect the DNA from further damage. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, tanning beds emit a dose of UVA that is approximately 12 times the amount of the sun. Not surprisingly, this places tanning bed users at a significantly higher risk for skin cancer, including melanoma.
UVB rays play a significant role in causing skin cancer and are primarily responsible for skin reddening and sunburn. UVB affects the skin more superficially than UVA and are the strongest between 10am and 4pm. UVB cannot penetrate glass, but can reflect up to 80% off of surfaces like water and snow and are particularly strong at high altitudes.
What should I look for on my skin?
Any new spot that appears on your skin that doesn’t seem to match the rest of what your skin or spots normally look like is reason for closer inspection.
Dark lesions that are new or growing are especially concerning because they could be an early sign of melanoma, which is the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
The ABCDE’s of melanoma include Assymetry, Border irregularity, Color (especially if there are multiple colors in one mole), large Diameter, and Evolving.
Photo via skincancer.org
Melanoma can occur anywhere on the skin and can grow and spread throughout the body if not caught early. However, when detected early, melanoma is almost always treatable.
Occurring more frequently than melanoma are basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). These skin cancers tend to appear in areas of sun exposure and typically take much longer to develop than melanoma. These often present as pink to red lesions that may be painful, itch, bleed easily or resemble a wound that just doesn’t seem to go away.
Bottom line, if something appears on your skin that just doesn’t seem like it belongs, see a dermatology provider. I would much rather have a patient come see me for a benign lesion than put off seeing me for a malignant one. In all cases of skin cancer, the prognosis and treatment are always better when caught early.
Stay tuned for more ways you can stay sun protected & get a run down on exactly what happens during an annual skin exam.
-Theresa Helsel, Dermatology PA
Follow Theresa on social @theres.a.runner