At every pool party, there’s at least one shirtless dad burnt red like a lobster. But this trope, while hilarious, is killing men: Non-Hispanic white men under 40 are twice as likely to die from melanoma as women of the same race and age. There are certainly biological factors at play, but a large reason why skin cancer in men is such an issue is that guys aren’t raised to care about their skin. And while reapplying sunscreen every few hours is annoying and easy to forget, it can truly be lethal. Even one severe sunburn can dramatically increase your risk of skin cancer.
Skin care isn’t a large part of the lives of most men, but when the alternative is potentially dying of melanoma, it should be. That’s why Fatherly created this no-BS guide to skin cancer in men, including how to protect yourself against this deadly — but preventable! — disease. (Hint: There’s more to do than just wear sunscreen.)
Skin Cancer in Men
Men are much more likely than women to die from melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association. Non-Hispanic white boys and men aged 15 to 39 are more than twice as likely to die from skin cancer compared to women of the same age and race. By age 65, men are twice as likely to develop melanoma, and by the time they’re 80, they have triple the risk.
The reason is both biological and cultural, says Peterson Pierre, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles, California. Cisgender men have more collagen and elastin, which makes their skin thicker with less fat underneath compared to cis women. This difference in biological makeup makes most men more vulnerable to the sun. “Research has shown that men’s skin reacts more unfavorably to ultraviolet radiation than women’s, which means that the skin becomes more damaged,” Pierre says.
But there’s also a cultural component. Women tend to care more about their appearance, and they’re more likely to know that sun damage causes wrinkles and discoloration, according to Pierre. Seventy-six percent of women know that there’s no such thing as a healthy tan compared to only 56 percent of men. They also use use sunscreen more frequently than men do. “Women are also more conditioned to use skincare products that already contain SPF whereas guys don’t use them as often,” Pierre says.
On the flip side, it’s more culturally acceptable for men to have wrinkles, so they may not be as dedicated to prevention with sun protection. Men are also much more likely to carry over that feeling of being indestructible from adolescence into adulthood, Pierre says, so they’re less likely to wear sun protection and to reapply as needed.
So in this case, masculinity can literally be toxic to your own life expectancy. “Even though they’re adults and they should know better, some men still go out there without sun protection or without reapplying as they should,” Pierre says.
What Does Skin Cancer Look Like?
Pierre recommends checking your own skin every three months for new moles or moles that have changed in size, color, or shape. You should also keep an eye out for unprovoked bleeding, redness, wounds that don’t heal, or anything new on your skin that looks unusual. Moles that are asymmetrical and have irregular borders, color that’s not the same throughout, or are larger than a pencil eraser should all be of particular concern.
If you have trouble remembering what to look for, the ABCDE skin cancer test can help:
- A stands for asymmetry, meaning that the mole isn’t uniform and symmetrical in shape.
- B stands for borders, or moles that do not have defined borders or are irregular in shape.
- C stands for, you guessed it, color. Moles that are cancerous are usually more than one color.
- D stands for diameter, meaning moles that are larger than 6 mm across.
- E stands for evolution, or whether the mole changes over time.
Diagnosing Skin Cancer
Dermatologists are trained to look for suspicious moles that may turn out to be skin cancer. That’s why you should visit a dermatologist starting in early adulthood for a simple skin check.
Depending on a number of factors, your doctor will determine how often you need to be evaluated. If you have a family history of skin cancer or melanoma, a history of sunburns, or you have a job where you’re outside, you may need to see the dermatologist more often, usually between six and 12 months. If you have a number of moles, strange-looking moles, or you have had skin cancer in the past, the doctor may want to see you more often.
If you don’t want to take a trip to the doctor’s office just to get your skin looked at, you’re in luck. Because diagnosing skin cancer is so visual, dermatologists can easily look at worrisome skin growths via a video telehealth appointment.
How to Stay Safe in the Sun
If at all possible, avoid being out in the sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. each day because this is when the sun’s intensity is its highest. The Food and Drug Administration recommends the following tips for staying safe in the sun:
- Apply broad spectrum UVA/UVB sun protection 15 minutes before going outside in the sun.
- If you’re losing your hair, apply sunscreen to the top of your head or wear a hat.
- Reapply every 2-3 hours depending on how pale your skin is and how often you burn.
- If you’re going to be in the water or sweating a lot, make sure you’re wearing water-resistant sun protection.
- Cover up with wide-brimmed hats and SPF clothing.
- Choose sunscreen that contains zinc or titanium for the best protection.
When it comes to skin cancer, vigilance is more than half the battle. The disease is often preventable. And if caught early, even the most deadly forms are largely treatable.
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