Melanoma Awareness Month: Protecting Your Skin in May and Beyond

Summer is just around the corner, ushering in longer days, warmer weather, and more time spent enjoying the outdoors. But along with all the joys that the sunshine brings, it's important to remember that it also carries some dangers—most notably, the risk of skin cancer. 

May is Melanoma Awareness Month, a time each year when Panama Jack teams up with the Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF) to raise awareness about the dangers of melanoma and other types of skin cancer. One important way the foundation brings its mission to life is through its #GetNaked campaign, designed to encourage each and every person to conduct monthly self-skin checks, as well as schedule annual exams by a board certified dermatologist. That's because, when caught early, survival rates for this deadly form of skin cancer can be more than 90%!

This year's MRF spokesperson—TV personality, podcast host and melanoma survivor, Teddi Mellencamp—is helping to raise awareness about the dangers of melanoma, and the benefits of early detection, by sharing her own personal story. To help Teddi and the MRF spread the word, we've rounded up the simplest yet most effective tips for maintaining healthy skin and reducing your risk of melanoma, all in one place. With these guidelines, you can enjoy the sun with confidence this season, and every season.

Understanding the Risks

Skin cancer is a threat that everyone should better understand in order to take the appropriate precautions. In fact, skin cancer is now the most common cancer in the United States, with one in five Americans expected to develop some form of it during their lifetimes, according to the MRF, the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) and many other leading cancer research organizations.

In particular, melanoma is generally considered to be the deadliest and most aggressive form of skin cancer. The lifetime risk of contracting it is roughly 1 in 40 for Caucasians, 1 in 200 for Hispanics, and 1 in 1,000 for African Americans. And according to the MRF, nearly 90% of melanomas can be attributed to the skin’s exposure to sunlight and other harmful UV light.

While it’s important to know the risks, this doesn’t have to mean avoiding the sunshine! Read on to learn more about identifying potential melanomas so you can take proactive steps with your dermatologist. And continue reading for our top tips for preventing the formation of skin cancers in the first place. 

Detecting Melanoma

As we’ve shared on our blog previously, there are many ways of detecting and preventing melanoma. This aggressive form of skin cancer can take many shapes and forms, but there are a few signs and symptoms that are frequently reported, including:

  • A mole or other spot on your skin that appears in an unusual size, shape or color
  • An existing mole or spot that seems to have changed in size, shape or color
  • A mole or other spot that feels painful or irritated and doesn’t seem to heal with over-the-counter treatments or topical medications
  • A mole, sore or other spot that appears rough, dry, red or scaly in texture
  • A mole or spot that is itchy or prone to bleeding

Keep in mind that these are just a few of the most common signs, and melanoma can take many other forms and have many different symptoms depending on the unique skin of each individual. Visit your dermatologist if you notice these or any other suspicious skin conditions, and be sure to keep up with regular skin checks each year regardless. 

Preventing Melanoma

One of the best ways to prevent melanoma is to protect your skin from the sun's harmful rays. This is true not only when you’re preparing to spend a significant amount of time in the sun—say, a day at the beach or on a boat trip. Beyond those obvious occasions, for true skin cancer mitigation, it’s critical to protect your skin each and every day, even in colder months or on cloudy and overcast days.

The MRF recommends two courses of action for melanoma prevention:

  • Primary Prevention: Reduce or limit your exposure to melanoma-causing UV radiation.
  • Secondary Prevention: Commit to regular screenings with your dermatologist to identify melanoma and other skin cancers in the earliest stages of development.

Reducing your risk of developing melanoma really is that simple. But what are the best ways to approach the primary prevention measure of avoiding UV exposure? Let’s break it down.

Make Sunscreen a Part of Your Daily Regimen

First, always apply a Broad Spectrum sunscreen to any exposed skin. Choose an SPF that’s right for your skin type and tone, as well as for the duration you plan to be in the sun. For most people, this will mean opting for an SPF of 30 or higher, but check out our SPF 101 for more information on choosing the right sunscreen for your needs.

And remember to reapply at least every two hours or after swimming or sweating!

Dress for Full Sun Coverage

It's also essential to wear protective clothing and accessories whenever you’re heading outside, such as a UPF-rated hat to shade your face and neck, and sunglasses with 100% UVA/UVB protection to shield your eyes from the sun’s rays. 

Know Your Skin Type

People with fair skin, light eyes, and red or blonde hair are at higher risk of developing skin cancer. If you have a fair complexion, take extra precautions when spending time in the sun.

Consider Interior Sun Exposure

It may seem counterintuitive, but it's not just about protecting your skin while you're outside. You can still be exposed to harmful UV rays while indoors near windows or while traveling in a car. To mitigate these risks, consider installing window film in your home or car, which can help block up to 99% of UV rays. 

Say Farewell to Tanning Beds

It should go without saying that we should avoid tanning beds, which can be just as harmful as the sun—if not more so. In fact, according to the AAD, exposure to tanning beds is tied to early onset melanoma, and women younger than 30 are shown to be six times more likely to develop melanoma if they tan indoors. 

Be Mindful of Medications

Some medications, such as certain antibiotics and prescription-strength acne treatments, can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Be sure to read the labels of your medications and take extra precautions when spending time in the sun.

Check Your Skin at Home

Another crucial aspect of preventing melanoma is to monitor your skin for any changes. Perform regular self-exams, and make sure to visit a dermatologist if you notice any suspicious moles or spots. Remember, early detection is key to successfully treating melanoma.

Sun Safe Every Day, Everywhere

The bottom line: sun safety isn't just for the beach or pool. You can be exposed to harmful UV rays during everyday activities like running errands, gardening, or walking your dog—and your risk remains even in the colder months. By making sun safety a part of your daily routine, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing skin cancer.

Melanoma Awareness Month

Taking care of your skin should be a top priority year-round, but it’s especially important to refresh yourself on these sun-protection tips each year. What better time than during Melanoma Awareness Month in May! Better yet, schedule your annual skin checks in or around the month of May so you’ll always remember this critical piece of the prevention puzzle.

By incorporating healthy habits into your daily routine and staying vigilant about skin protection, you can help prevent skin damage and stay healthy and glowing. Follow the MRF and check out their Melanoma Awareness Month events and programming to learn more about how you can protect yourself, and consider donating here to help support life-saving melanoma research.