4 Ways to Protect Your Skin After Skin Cancer

You've had it once already. Here's how to lower your risk of getting it again.

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By Kristen Sturt

Here's a sobering fact: if you've had melanoma once, your odds of getting it again are nine times higher than everyone else. Even if you haven't had melanoma—even if it was another kind of skin cancer—you have an increased risk of developing cancer again.

That's why it's so important to protect yourself. And with a little preparation, some vigilance and a big mirror, you can help prevent future bouts with this potentially deadly disease. Here's how.

Slather yourself with sunscreen

2 / 5 Slather yourself with sunscreen

If you think a bout with melanoma will scare you into a life-long sunscreen habit, think again. A 2016 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that just 54 percent of participants with skin cancer histories use the stuff frequently. They forget a good sunscreen is one of your best bets against developing the condition a second time.

So, choose a brand with UVA and UVB broad-spectrum protection, as well as an SPF of at least 30; the higher the number, the better. Apply it before you leave the house, and then every two hours throughout the day—more often if you're sweating profusely or using the pool. Don't forget your ears, under your eyes, your hairline, the tops of your feet and your scalp if you're balding.

Oh, and try not to save sunscreen exclusively for beach days; you're just as likely to be sunburned in your garden or through a car window as you are on the shore. So, apply it every day, in all types of weather.

Think beyond the lotion

3 / 5 Think beyond the lotion

While sunscreen is an important line of protection against harmful rays, it's not your only defense. You can also stay indoors between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when sunlight is most intense, and stick to shady areas when you are outside. You can wear UV-protective sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and light, long-sleeve clothing made of tightly woven fabric—cotton instead of linen, for example.

And of course, skip the tanning salons, which are thought to cause more than 400,000 US skin cancers annually. If you need that sun-kissed glow, opt for a self-tanner with built-in sunscreen instead. It'll give you a little extra color without all the medical bills.

Perform self check-ups

4 / 5 Perform self check-ups

Do you know where your moles are? When you have a history of skin cancer, it's a good idea to get acquainted. Monthly checkups are a smart way to do this; you'll learn your potential problem areas, and be able to identify changes over time.

For those hard-to-see spots on your back, neck and top of your head—where skin cancer can be particularly deadly—let your partner pitch in. Use your phone to record notes and take pictures of moles, too. It'll make it easier to detect changes from month to month. And if something seems off? Visit your doctor, stat.

Embrace follow-up care

5 / 5 Embrace follow-up care

Once you've been treated for skin cancer, you'll want to see a doctor regularly to catch it if it returns. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends you visit a board-certified dermatologist every year for a full-body exam, and depending on your history, you may require more frequent checkups or additional tests. Remember: the earlier you find a growth, the better your odds of recovery.

Your doctor may also recommend a change in lifestyle. And while it's not necessarily proven to prevent skin cancer from returning, maintaining a healthy routine—eating right, exercising, avoiding stress, nixing smoking—is a good way to help stave off any disease. 

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