You may have heard that the actor Hugh Jackman was recently diagnosed with skin cancer. Apparently it was his wife who prompted him to get the spot checked out. Fortunately, it was caught early and easily treated. But if he’s like many men, skin cancer isn’t top of mind. After all, the popular press tends to focus on women’s skin care and sun protection.
In fact, men over 50 are at double the risk to die from skin cancer when compared to women. They’re also at substantially increased risk for squamous cell skin cancer and basal cell skin cancer.
Although anyone’s skin can be damaged by the sun, men tend to spend more time outdoors, use less sun protection, and visit the doctor less often. All of that leads to an increased risk of cancer and larger cancers that can be disfiguring and even deadly. As with all skin cancer, prevention and early detection are the keys for men living in sunny climates like Austin.
Many skin care products and sunscreens are marketed to women which sometimes means they have a scent or creamy feel that men don’t like. It can also be difficult to get creamy sunscreens through to the skin if you have a lot of hair on your arms and chest. A broad-brimmed hat (such as a cowboy hat or Tilley hat) is a quick way to protect your face and neck. Although a ball cap will help somewhat, it doesn’t protect your ears, neck, and the sides of your face.
At Evans Dermatology Partners, we carry several sunscreens particularly because they appeal to men. The one I like best is the Solbar 30 Gel Sunscreen. It’s alcohol-based (like a hand sanitizer) which means that it doesn’t leave a residue on the skin. Many men also like the Elta UV Aero, a non-greasy spray. Also, it’s common for sunscreen to be ineffective because too little is applied. A good rule of thumb is to use a golf-ball sized amount (1 oz.) to cover the face and body.
It’s important to remember to use sun protection not only when working or playing outdoors but for driving as well. About 60% of skin cancer in men is on the left side of the body due to exposure through car glass. If you’re balding on top, remember to apply sunscreen there (gel is great for the scalp since it doesn’t leave the hair feeling greasy). And wear your hat – the balding scalp is a common skin cancer site for men.
Keeping sunscreen easily accessible helps make it part of your routine. Have several bottles which you can put in your golf bag, with your lawnmower or outdoor tools, or with sporting equipment. This simple reminder helps make it easy to reapply every two hours when outside.
Men are less likely to visit the dermatologist or perform self-skin exams than women, which helps account for the higher death rate from melanoma in men. Early detection is the key to surviving melanoma, so set an alarm on your phone or calendar to remind you to examine your skin before your shower on the first day of every month.
For our skin checks at Evans Dermatology, we have paper shorts to help us examine your skin completely – avoiding those sometimes embarrassing hospital-style gowns.
Sometimes it helps to think about your skin and your health like you would think about your car. You would never drive your car for years without getting the oil changed, checking your tire tread, and following maintenance guidelines and if you noticed something wrong you would get it checked out. Although you might get away with ignoring maintenance for a while, you would eventually have a breakdown.
Of course, you can always get a new car, but your health is irreplaceable. So protect yourself with a brimmed hat and sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher), see your dermatologist for regular skin checks, and keep a regular eye on your skin. Taking good care of your skin now will save you time, money, and maybe your life.