Sunny but Dangerous

Local doctors and specialists offer tips for staying safe in the sun


The summer months have arrived, bringing torrential rains with them. The monsoon weather keeps you from soaking up the sunshine you crave. Days and weeks go by, and you begin to forget the feeling of warm rays caressing your skin. But then … your window of opportunity — and a hot, sunny day — finally arrives! 

Without hesitation, you hop out of bed and throw on your best beach attire. A few minutes later, you’re out the door, headed for toasty sand and rippling waves. It’s only when you’ve laid out your beach towel that you remember the sunscreen you left at home — sunscreen that could have protected you from a dangerous, unrelenting disease that can stem from UVB and UVA rays: melanoma. 

According to Dr. Ben Kirbo, plastic surgeon at Southeastern Plastic Surgery, the cause of melanoma is a change or mutation of DNA in melanocytes. The melanocyte cells produce pigmentation in our skin and live deep within our skin’s surface. “Through UV exposure, that DNA is mutated and causes the cells to overproduce.” 

While UV exposure counts as one risk factor for contracting melanoma, the chances of contracting melanoma vary from person to person. Risk factors can include anything from your family history, to having more than 100 moles on your body, to your skin type, to how much heavy exposure to UV light you have. “Melanoma is a deadly disease,” Dr. Kirbo says, “but if caught early, it’s almost 100% curable.”

Naturally, you’re at a higher risk of developing skin cancer if you reside in an area of the world that grants you more year-round sun exposure — like Florida. But you don’t need to pack your suitcases and make the move to Seattle; Dr. Kirbo offers three professional tips that can help you stay safe under the sun:

Cover up — “If you’re going to be on a beach, have an umbrella out there. If you’re fishing or playing tennis, clothes are really good, now, to cover yourself up,” says Dr. Kirbo. 

Avoid the hot hours — “10 a.m. to 4 p.m., you’ll want to be very careful — the UV exposure is strongest during this time,” Dr. Kirbo says. 

Slather and reapply — “If you’re going to be in the sun wearing a sunscreen or sunblock, apply 30 minutes prior (to exposure) and every two hours that you’re out.”

Just like all things in life, there are dangers and risks to having fun in the sun. But with the dangers come ways to protect yourself. So head to the beach, have some fun and don’t forget your sunblock!

Signs of Possible Melanoma

Want to examine yourself for melanoma before making a trip to the doctor? Just remember your ABCDEs.

AsymmetryIf you were to draw a line through the middle of a noncancerous mole, both sides would match one another. If your mole is asymmetrical, get it checked out.

Border: Noncancerous moles will have smooth borders; melanomas can be uneven, showing jagged edges.

ColorA light shade of brown is common for benign moles, but a cancerous mole can change colors. 

Diameter: Noncancerous moles are generally smaller than the size of a pencil eraser, while a melanoma’s diameter is usually as large or larger than an eraser. (Cancerous moles can be smaller if they are detected early.) If you have a large mole, make an appointment to show it to your doctor.

Evolving: Benign moles stay the same size during your lifetime; if you notice a mole on your body is evolving, make sure to get it checked out right away. 

Categories: Wellness