A-B-C-D-E of Skin Safety


Sure, it’s hot and sunny outside, and that usually means time for summer fun.

But it also means taking the necessary precautions to protect your skin.

The National Cancer Institute estimates that more than 100,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2024.

Dr. Susan Sharpe is a board-certified surgical oncologist who works with Meritus Health. After completing her complex general surgery oncology fellowship at the University of Chicago and practicing in the field for nearly a decade, she’s picked up some important tips to help you stay safe in the summer sun.  

She said that while there are certain uncontrollable factors – family history, skin tone, age – there are many factors that can be controlled to prevent melanoma.

That includes avoiding tanning beds and salons, wearing UV protective clothing and applying sunscreen – SPF 30 or higher – regularly on exposed areas. That should be every two hours under normal outdoor conditions (even when it’s cloudy), and every 45 minutes when you’ve been in the water.

“It needs to go everywhere you have exposure – face, neck, ears,” Dr. Sharpe said. “People who part their hair certain ways, or for those who might be losing hair, the scalp is important, too.”

(A side note to those who long for snow: That fresh powder reflects the sun’s rays, too, so be sure to put sunscreen on your face, even in the wintertime.)

What if you have a mole or freckle that looks suspicious?

  • Dr. Sharpe says to remember A-B-C-D-E to help decide if that blemish is suspicious.
  • Asymmetry – Instead of a nice perf circle, does the mole look like a comet? Is it equal on each side?
  • Border – Is it irregular, jagged or darker in one area and fades at the edge?
  • Color – There are several different colors for melanoma, Dr. Sharpe said. It can be brown, black, white, blue, red and sometimes even skin color. If it’s not one color, that could mean melanoma.
  • Diameter – Generally, if the mole is about the width of a finger (roughly a quarter-inch) or larger, it could be concerning.
  • Evolution – Has one or more of the above-mentioned things changed over time?

In addition, you should be concerned if the mole starts bleeding or becomes itchy. It could also look like a scab that won’t heal over time, Dr. Sharpe said.

The first thing to do is to contact your primary care provider and schedule an appointment to have things checked out.

“They might look at it and say it’s benign, or that it looks like it could be melanoma, or perhaps that they’ll see you x number of times to make sure nothing changes over time,” Dr. Sharpe said.

If it is duly suspicious, your primary care provider could refer you to a surgeon, like Dr. Sharpe, to have the mole removed.

But no matter what, Dr. Sharpe stressed that you shouldn’t wait to get it checked out.

“Don’t ignore anything,” she said. “The earlier you can catch melanoma, the better the chances of survival.”

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