We’ve all heard it before: apply sunscreen liberally every day before sun exposure and re-apply often. This is a tried and true maneuver to minimize the risk of skin cancer, specifically the most deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma. But even applying all the sunscreen in the world to your skin won’t 100% prevent you from getting melanoma. There are certain places on the body you'd never think to protect from sun damage, but they're incredibly important to shield.
Here are six often-overlooked body parts you should be hyper-aware of when it comes to sun exposure:
After your skin, your eyes are the next most common location for melanoma to occur — your eyes also have melanin-producing cells. And since most eye melanomas form in parts of the eye you can't see in the mirror, it's important to protect your eyes. The risk factors for melanoma of the eye are less clear than for melanoma of the skin, but experts agree that sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection are important.
Oral melanoma accounts for almost 2% of all cancer in the head and neck in the US, and since they tend to arise silently with few symptoms until progression has occurred, it's incredibly important to investigate if something looks off in your mouth. Healthy gum tissue is pink, so if you notice a black "ink splotch" on your gums, soft palate or inner cheeks, get it checked out. Your dentist can help you check for these abnormalities at your semi-annual teeth cleaning.
Chances are your vagina doesn't experience much sun exposure, but it's still incredibly important to remember the best way to keep your risk of melanoma low is to avoid being in the sun too much. Your gynecologist can tell you if there are suspicious areas during a pelvic exam. Black nodules, abnormal areas of bleeding or ink-stain blots are worthy of a closer look, maybe even a biopsy.
4. Nail beds
Just like you can have moles on your skin, you can develop them in your nail beds, the skin underneath your nails. Often, these dark streaks or spots are mistaken for a bruise or blood blister. The difference is that a benign lesion grows forward, leaving healthy nail behind it at the base, while a melanoma of the nail stays at the base.
Some other warning signs: the streaks/spots are very dark, there are blurred borders or a streak you've always had begins to change shape. If you notice something in your nail beds, have it checked out by a dermatologist.
5. Nasal cavity
Another part of your body you might not realize ever sees the sun, the nasal cavity is still part of your skin. Unexpected nosebleeds may be a result of dry weather or trauma (read: nose-picking). But recurrent nosebleeds may be a sign of a bleeding mass inside the nose and should be evaluated by an Ear, Nose and Throat expert.
6. Palms and soles of the feet
Glabrous skin, the skin that makes up the hairless covering of the palms and soles, is susceptible to a rare type of melanoma known as acral lentiginous melanoma. A thorough skin exam looks at all of these areas between the webs of the fingers and toes.