By Jessica Wilson, CNP, Family Medicine
It’s easy to forget that our skin is the largest organ in the body. But it has a way of reminding us with sunburn, new freckles, moles, itchy rashes, or age spots. With a total area of about 22 square feet of skin on the average body, a lot can happen when you stop to think about the skin you’re in.
From childhood, we’ve been slathered with sunscreen to help protect us from the harmful rays of the sun. Too much sun not only means sunburn, but it can also lead to skin cancers, such as melanoma—malignant tumors that start as moles and are caused by too much sun exposure. Skin cancer can also appear in areas that aren’t generally exposed to the sun, even on the palms of your hands or under your fingernails.
Finding a balance between getting the right amount of vitamin D from the sun while not getting too much sun can be a challenge—especially for those who live in frigid climates six months out of the year. Protect your skin and avoid over-exposure to UV rays year-round, including tanning beds.
Now that summer is here, more people are enjoying the great outdoors. But with the outdoors come irritants that can erupt in blisters or rashes. Whether you have sensitive skin or not, heat rash can take down the hardiest outdoors person. Also called “prickly heat,” a heat rash usually goes away once you cool down with air conditioning or a cool bath/compresses. And before taking a nature hike, learn to identify poison ivy, poison sumac, and wild parsnip so you can avoid contact with them and the itchiness, blisters, and misery they bring.
If you’ve been in your skin for a number of years, you’ll begin to notice changes, such as age spots, skin tags, or fine wrinkles. These aren’t dangerous, but for cosmetic reasons, a skin tag may need to be removed if it is irritated by your clothing or in a conspicuous location. You can use retinoic acid to help treat wrinkles from sun damage and improve the texture of your skin, among other benefits.
As you age, continue to protect yourself from the sun—wear large-brimmed hats and long sleeves (find clothing with SPF features), a high SPF sunscreen, and avoid the peak times of sun between 10–2. If you are a smoker, stopping smoking will also improve the condition of your skin.
Regular Skin Checks
Perform regular self-care skin checks. Think of starting at the top and moving down your body. It is important to document areas of concern so that if a spot looks suspicious later on or you find a spot, you can compare it to your previous skin check. Do monthly skin checks for optimal outcomes!
Follow this head-to-toe guideline for self-care skin checks:
- Examine your face, especially around the nose, ears, back of ears, mouth, and lips.
- Inspect your scalp. Have a family or friend help you. It is closest to the sun!
- Examine your hands and arms. Scan all sides top to bottom, underarms, and between fingers!
- Inspect your torso. Focus on your neck, chest, and under breasts.
- Examine your upper and lower back. It’s a common area that is not easy to see, so you may need help. Have a family or friend check your skin, or use a full-size mirror with a handheld mirror.
- Inspect your legs and feet. Check the front, sides, and back along with between toes!
If you have questions about sun exposure, changes in your skin’s condition, or other skincare concerns, talk to your primary care provider. Your provider can do a thorough skin exam, and together, you can make a plan of care – including a referral to a dermatologist if recommended.