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Time at home is the ‘perfect time’ to protect and check your skin

OHSU melanoma expert describes how to protect your skin from sun damage, prevent skin cancer while staying home
woman looking over her bare shoulder as a man's hand frames up a large mole
Although Oregon has a reputation for rainy weather, the state has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the nation. Experts urge folks to use skin protection as they enjoy the beautiful spring weather. (Getty Images)

As people spend more time at home -- and enjoy time outside more than ever -- an OHSU dermatology expert has a message: Use this extra time to check and protect your skin!

May is national “Melanoma Awareness Month,” and Sancy Leachman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s Melanoma Program, wants to raise awareness about the importance of sun safety and skin protection.

Sancy Leachman, M.D., Ph.D.
Sancy Leachman, M.D., Ph.D.

“Despite its reputation for rainy weather, Oregon has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the nation,” says Leachman, who also is chair of the Department of Dermatology in the OHSU School of Medicine. “Every spring, when the sun starts to come out, Oregonians start flocking outside. With the current stay-at-home order and physical distancing, I think people want to get out more than ever! I understand the desire to get outside, but I want people to practice sun safety and protect their skin.”

In an effort to help Oregonians, Leachman’s team created a list of three recommendations for protecting your skin while staying at home:

Check your skin. And if you find something that concerns you, call a dermatologist.

Leachman urges people to use this extra time at home for good. “Instead of binging one more episode of your favorite Netflix show, try giving yourself or a loved one a skin exam,” she says. “A good skin exam doesn’t need to take long — just 15 minutes.”

When many routine or preventive skin checks are delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she says self-skin checks are more important than ever. “Dermatologists are still able to see patients on an urgent basis, or for suspicious moles or areas of concern. If you have a mole or spot you’re worried about, don’t hesitate to call a dermatologist.” She adds that many offices also offer virtual care options, allowing patients to get medical advice without leaving their homes.

Tips and tricks for self-skin exams are available on the website OHSU War on Melanoma website, including the “Skin Check Tango,” a video from the organization “Euro Melanoma,” which demonstrates how to start a partnered skin exam.

Learn how to distinguish healthy moles from potentially dangerous ones.

“With melanoma, your eyes really can be your best tool. A mole or spot on your skin that is changing in appearance (size, shape, coloration) is a key indicator for melanoma,” Leachman says.

The War on Melanoma website has free educational modules that include photographic examples of irregular moles. Practice Recognizing Melanoma is a helpful primer for those interested in how to distinguish a melanoma from a regular mole.

On Monday, April 20, Leachman and team hosted an online seminar, called “Melanoma in the Era of COVID-19.” This virtual roundtable discussion was designed to delve into the current state of COVID-19 as it pertains to melanoma patients and treatment. The virtual conference was recorded and is available to view online.

Prevent sun damage

Leachman is quick to emphasize that even though we are spending the majority of our time indoors, we still need to protect our skin when taking breaks outside.

“During this COVID-19 era, people are anxious to leave their homes and get outside,” says Leachman. “But whether it’s taking a Zoom meeting from your back porch or a physically distanced walk in the park, you’re still getting sun exposure and you need to be protecting your skin!”

Leachman recommends the following anytime you are exposed to the sun:

  • Wear sunscreen, hats, sunglasses or loose-fitting, lightweight clothes that breathe.
  • Reapply sunscreen at least every 90 minutes, and use a product with an SPF of 30 or higher.

“When we crave the sunshine and fresh air more than ever, just remember you still need to protect yourself!”

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