Sunlight is a major cause of skin aging and skin cancer. As you age, you may start to notice more wrinkles, age spots, skin tags and thinning of your skin.
It’s important to remember that skin health is important year-round, not just during summer. By caring for your skin as you age, you can reduce your risk for skin cancer and make your skin look and feel better.
Common Skin Issues as You Age
Age spots are flat, brown spots often caused by years in the sun. They are bigger than freckles and commonly show up on the face, hands, arms, back and feet.
Skin tags are small, usually flesh-colored growths of skin that have a raised surface. They become common as people age, especially for women. They are most often found on the eyelids, neck, and body folds such as the armpit, chest, and groin.
Age spots and skin tags are harmless. However, skin cancer can have more serious implications. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. About 3.3 million Americans are diagnosed with basal and squamous cell skin cancers each year. And the American Cancer Society estimates that in 2019 about 96,480 new melanomas will be diagnosed. There are three main types of skin cancer:
- Basal cell carcinoma: About 8 out of 10 skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas – it’s the most common. This type usually develops on areas frequently exposed to the sun, like the head and neck, and it rarely spreads to other parts of the body.
- Squamous cell carcinomas: About 2 out of 10 skin cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, which grow into deeper layers of the skin. Squamous cell carcinomas commonly grow on the face, ears, neck, lips and backs of the hands.
- Melanoma: This cancer develops from melanocytes, which are the melanin producing cells in the skin. Melanin is the pigment that gives skin, hair and eyes its color. While melanomas accounts for only about 1% of skin cancers, they are more likely to grow and spread to other parts of the body, making it even more important to prevent.
What You Can Do to Protect Your Skin
Most skin cancers are preventable, and you can help reduce age spots, skin tags and wrinkles by protecting your skin from the sun. It’s important that you always practice sun safety, not just on sunny days. The sun can cause skin damage even on overcast or cloudy days. Keep your skin healthy by following the tips below.
- Wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher
- Reapply sunscreen throughout the day, especially after swimming or sweating
- Avoid the sun for long periods of time between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Pay attention to changes in your skin
- Wear hats when out in the sun
- Don’t forget about sunglasses
- Remember that skin damage can occur in as little as 15 minutes of sun exposure
Signs of Skin Cancer
You can reduce your risk for skin cancer by having regular skin cancer screenings. A skin cancer screening is a visual exam that can be done by yourself or your doctor. It’s recommended that older adults perform monthly self-exams and see their doctor at least once a year. This may need to be more frequent if you are at a higher risk for skin cancer.
Skin cancers can develop anywhere on your body and form when mutations occur in your skin cells causing the cells to grow and form a mass or clump. It most often develops in areas frequently exposed to the sun like your face, ears and the back of your neck, but also can occur in areas that aren’t exposed to the sun.
Some signs or changes that are important to look out for include:
- Irregular or growing moles
- Discolored or multi-colored moles
- Bleeding or burning moles
- Painful lesions
- Dark spots or lesions on your palms, soles, mouth or nose
Make an appointment with your doctor immediately if you develop any of these symptoms and remember that not all skin changes are cancerous.
Who’s at Risk for Skin Cancer
Everyone is at risk, but if you have any of the below characteristics you have a greater chance of developing skin cancer.
- Family history of skin cancer
- Previously diagnosed with skin cancer
- Fair skin
- Have lots of moles
- Weakened immune system
- Excessive sun exposure
- History of sunburns
The MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Medical Center is committed to helping patients overcome the challenges that come with skin and a wide range of cancers. The MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute’s multi-disciplinary care team provides personalized care for each patient, using the latest innovative technologies and treatments.