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Women's Health

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Surviving Summer

Follow these safety and first-aid tips and avoid calling 911 later.

Sun Burns and Skin Cancer

"The acute effects of sun toxicity are redness, burning, and blisters," says Lily Lai, MD, a staff surgeon at City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, Calif. Deeper burns blister and turn white or blanch when touched.

With acute sun exposure, if there are not blisters or peeling and a person is just kind of red, a good lubricating lotion will make them feel better and less irritated, but blisters may require medical attention, Lai says.

If you have had a lot of cumulative sun damage, the warning signs are wrinkles, a leathery thickness of skin, and pigmented lesions. "If you start developing irregular moles that look funny or get bigger and become more speckled and spotted, these are warnings signs of melanoma," a potentially fatal form of skin cancer, Lai says.

Other types of skin cancers may distinguish themselves by scaliness, or they may get irritated and not heal, she explains.

If you are fair skinned with a lot of sun exposure and if you have a family history of melanoma, it's a good idea to see a dermatologist and have your moles evaluated and to do regular skin self-exams, Lai suggests.

When doing skin self-exams, experts recommend the "ABCD" rule for moles.

  • A is for asymmetry. In suspicious moles, one half of the mole may not match the other half.

  • B is for border. Suspicious moles may have an irregular border.

  • C is for color. Suspicious moles may have more than one color, such as black, tan, or brown and sometimes red, white, or blue.

  • D is for diameter. A mole should be no larger than six millimeters, which is roughly the size of a pencil eraser.

If any moles demonstrate "ABCD," you should see your doctor immediately.

To make sure you stay safe, "use sun blockers with a sun protection factor of 15 or higher, and it should be reapplied on a regular basis," Lai says.

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