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Am Fam Physician. 2000;62(2):381-382

See related article on skin cancer.

More and more men are using sun protection while they work and play outdoors. They know that skin cancer is a threat, but it's a threat they can do something about. If you protect your skin from the sun, your chance of getting skin cancer will be lower.

Why is the sun bad for my skin?

Sunburns and suntans are signs that your skin has been damaged. This damage increases your risk of getting skin cancer. If you protect your skin from the sun, you can lower this risk.

What should I do to protect my skin from the sun?

Follow these “safe-sun” guidelines whenever you are in the sun:

  • Stay out of the sun, if you can, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the sun is strongest.

  • Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants to protect the skin on your body. Wear shirts made from tightly woven cloth, like long-sleeved cotton t-shirts. If the clothing fits loosely, it will be cooler. Special sun-protective clothes are available from several companies, like Solumbra Sun Precautions (telephone: 1-800-882-7860). Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun. Sun exposure increases your risk of getting cataracts.

  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat. Wide-brimmed hats help protect your face, neck and ears from the sun. The best hat to wear in the sun has a brim that's at least 6 inches all around. Baseball caps and similar hats don't protect your ears and neck.

  • Use sunscreen. Every day, put on a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more, even on cloudy days. Clouds don't protect you from sun damage. Only sunscreen can do that. Use lots of sunscreen and rub it in well. Put the sunscreen on 30 minutes before you go outside. Put the sunscreen everywhere the sun's rays might touch you, including your forehead and face, your ears, the back of your neck and any bald parts on the top of your head. Some sunscreen products say they won't drip into your eyes. You can try those products on your face if that's a problem for you.

What else can I do to protect my skin?

Some doctors think it's a good idea to do a monthly skin check. Ask your doctor about this. If your doctor thinks it's a good idea for you, pick a certain day each month, like the date of your birthday or the day you pay bills, to check your skin. A monthly skin check can help you find skin cancer early. The earlier skin cancer is found, the better the chance for a cure.

The “ABCDE” rule can help you look for signs of skin cancer. When looking at moles on your skin, look for the following:

‘ABCDE’ Rule
Asymmetry:When both sides of a mole don't look the same.
Border:The edges of a mole are blurry or jagged.
Color:The color of a mole changes—if it's darker than before, the color spreads or goes away, or more than one color appears (blue, red, white, pink, purple or gray).
Diameter:When a mole is larger than a quarter of an inch in diameter (about the size of a pencil eraser).
Elevation:When a mole is raised above the skin and has a rough surface.

You should also watch for these changes of your skin:

  • A mole that bleeds

  • A mole that grows fast

  • A scaly or crusted growth on the skin

  • A sore that won't heal

  • A mole that itches

  • A place on your skin that feels rough like sandpaper

Be sure to check your whole body once each month, including your back, your scalp and the bottom of your feet. Use a hand mirror to check the places that you can't see easily. Have someone help you check the top of your head. You can use a blowdryer on low speed to move your hair so you can see your scalp more easily.

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