May is Melanoma Awareness Month, an entire month dedicated to helping spread awareness about this deadly form of skin cancer.
Because this issue affects so many women our age, we thought it was important to dedicate a post to melanoma awareness. Our goal is to help inform you guys about what melanoma is, which actions put you at risk for the disease, and the steps you can take to protect yourself.
Dear 16-Year-Old Me Video
If you haven't already seen it, a video entitled "Dear 16-Year-Old-Me" has been circulating the internet to help spread awareness of the risks of Melanoma and how to be smart when it comes to your skin. Check it out - it's worth watching.
What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a serious type of skin cancer. If caught early, melanoma can be treated and cured, but if not, it can spread to other parts of the body. Once it spreads, it is very difficult to treat and can become fatal.
What Causes Melanoma?
According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, melanoma originates in melanocytes, the cells that give your hair and skin their color. When the DNA of melanocytes is damaged through UV radiation or sunburns, the cells grow in a way that leads to a malignant (cancerous) tumor. Although sometimes this damage is a a product of genetic mutations, the vast majority of melanomas are caused by UV radiation.
Are You At Risk for Melanoma?
While this is a disease we should all be aware of, some people are at greater risk of contracting melanoma than others. When self-evaluating your risk for melanoma, there are a few factors you have to be aware of: sun exposure, moles on your skin, and your skin type.
While soaking up the sun may feel nice during the warm spring and summer months, UVA and UVB rays are harmful to your skin -- the radiation can induce melanoma and other types of skin cancer. If you've suffered a really bad sunburn before the age of 18, your chances of developing melanoma double. Tanning beds also increase your exposure to UV radiation, and thus are a contributing factor to melanoma and other skin cancers.
Know Your Moles
It's highly encouraged to keep track of moles on your skin in order to catch melanoma as early as possible. Therefore, you need to know your moles. Normal moles are usually small and brown, and have probably been there for a while - those are usually not cause for concern. However, if you notice a new mole, or see an old mole changing in shape or color, it's best to get it looked at by a doctor.
Those with fairer skin and lighter hair and eyes are at an increased risk of developing melanoma. But know that all skin types are still susceptible to melanoma, and if you have darker skin, this is in no way a free pass!
How to Protect Your Skin
Because sun exposure plays a large part in the development of melanoma, there are many easy ways to reduce your exposure to UVA and UVB rays -- stay out of tanning beds, wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen (that blocks both UVA and UVB rays - check the label), and stay out of the sun when its rays are harshest (between 10AM and 4 PM).
In addition to causing melanoma, excessive sun exposure causes long-term damage to your skin. Brown "sun spots" and wrinkles will show up down the road as a side effect of sun exposure in your earlier years. Ultimately, sunscreen is one of the best beauty products you can use!
Also, get to know your skin. Examine and keep an eye on your moles, noting changes in shape or color. We recommend checking out these free, downloadable melanoma detection charts - they're super helpful and will show you how to check your moles and what you need to watch for.
For more information on melanoma, be sure to visit the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund's website (they created the video above) or The Skin Cancer Foundation's website. There, you'll find lots more detailed information and tools you can use to reduce your risk.
Have you or anyone you know been effected by melanoma? How do you protect your skin? What are your thoughts on tanning beds? Leave us a comment and tell us what you think!