How and why you should protect your face from the sun

For 40 years, the Skin Cancer Foundation has been reminding people of the importance of protecting their skin from sun damage and the risk of skin cancer — the most common cancer in the United States.

With most skin cancers being found on the face, Washington University Facial Plastic Surgery Center physicians Dr. Gregory Branham, Dr. John Chi and Dr. Emily Spataro often treat patients who have been diagnosed with skin cancer.

“We want patients to understand the risks associated with sun exposure and to be aware of any changes in their skin that may help them detect skin cancer early, when it can best be treated, and how damage can be repaired,” says Dr. Chi.

“As facial plastic surgeons, we see a lot of skin cancer on the face, particularly the left side of the face (from driving ,with the increased sun exposure to that side) and the nose,” Dr. Branham adds. “Skin cancers of the face create a lot of anxiety in patients related to their appearance.”

Both surgeons also discourage patients from using tanning beds, which increase the risk for skin cancers and melanoma.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “on average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns.”

Because May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, the Facial Plastic Surgery Center wants to remind you about the importance of protecting your skin, including your face, ears, lips and more.

Common recommendations include:

• Minimize sun exposure and seek shaded areas during the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the risk for sunburn is the greatest.

• Cover up with a wide-brim hat, UV-blocking sunglasses and clothing.

• Avoid tanning, especially tanning beds.

•  Use an effective sunscreen to provide broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB. It should have an SPF 15 or greater and should be re-applied every hour or so, depending on the level and type of activity. Re-application should be considered after vigorous activity, swimming or excessive sweating.

• Ideally, apply sunscreen indoors approximately 30 minutes prior to going outside.

• Use lip protectant with SPF.

• Examine your skin from head to toe, looking for any suspicious lesions or moles.

• See a health care provider at least once a year for a skin exam.

“The use of antioxidant serums and vitamin C can also help protect against the oxidizing effects of UV exposure,” Dr. Branham adds. “They help combat dangerous free radical formation that can lead to damage to the collagen in the skin that may result in premalignant lesions.”

Sun exposure can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer and cosmetic skin changes (splotchy color, leathery texture, wrinkling, sagging, etc). 

Maintaining good habits while protecting your skin from the sun will not only help in the prevention of skin cancer, but also can mean healthier, more vibrant skin as you age.

For more information or to schedule a consultation with the physicians at the Facial Plastic Surgery Center, call 314-996-3880 or click here.