Who among us spent our teen years trying to achieve the perfect bronzed look on the sunbeds or on the beach?
We might be more aware of the risks of UV tanning now and have switched to sunless tanning mousse and drops to get a natural, understated glow. But how much damage did our early years of basting our skin do? And how can we reduce the risk of it turning into skin cancer?
Skin cancer is the most common in the States, but the good news is that it’s often preventable if you spot it early enough. Here’s how you can spot signs of skin cancer before it’s too late.
Check for new freckles and moles
One of the most common signs of skin cancer is changes to existing freckles and moles or new ones appearing. Moles and freckles are melanocytes, responsible for producing concentrated areas of melanin — the skin’s pigment. When this gets damaged, it can turn into skin cancer.
The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends using the ABCDE method of checking your moles:
- Asymmetry — Does your mole look different on one side compared to the other? Cancerous melanomas are more likely to be asymmetrical.
- Border — Is the border of your mole blurred, scalloped, or irregular? Standard moles will have a clearly defined border.
- Color — Does your mole have differing shades of brown, black, or tan in it? Or even white, blue, or red? Melanomas are more likely to develop these colors whereas standard moles are uniform.
- Diameter — Is your mole bigger than 6mm, or a standard pencil eraser? Although melanomas can be smaller, they tend to grow bigger than benign moles.
- Evolving — Have you noticed your mole getting bigger, darker, or exhibit strange signs like bleeding? This could be a sign it’s turning cancerous.
It’s recommended that you check your body for signs of melanoma at least once a month, especially if you have a history of skin cancer in the family or you’ve had a lot of sun exposure without SPF through your life. Use a mirror to check any areas that you can’t see on your body and, if possible, get a friend or partner to help you out.
If you see any suspicious moles or freckles, speak to your derm ASAP. They’ll perform a biopsy, where they remove some or all of the lesion to test it and see if it’s skin cancer.
Look out for scaly patches of skin
Our past love of UV tanning spells bad news for soft, glowing skin. UV rays dehydrate our complexion and contribute to visible signs of aging — not a good look. But this dryness can also be an early warning sign of skin cancer.
Known as actinic keratoses, these patches are a sign that skin has been heavily sun-damaged. Almost all squamous cell carcinomas begin life as actinic keratoses, so it’s important to spot these patches and see your derm.
Actinic keratoses will feel rough to the touch and will often be red and splotchy. They appear on the areas of the skin that we’re most likely to expose to the sun, including our faces, necks, scalp, shoulders, forearms and hands. As well as speaking to your derm, you can ease any irritation caused by these lesions by adding extra hydration into your skin and bodycare routines.
Skin lesions that won’t heal or go away
Have you ever had a painful lesion on your skin that burns and itches and just won’t seem to go away? This could be a basal cell carcinoma — a sign of melanoma — that comes in multiple forms. They can appear as red lumps under the eyes, shiny bumps, lesions that look like scars, or sores that bleed, scab, and return.
Squamous cell carcinomas can appear more prominently as open wounds or raised sores on and around the lips and other areas that are exposed to the sun, like the ears. These types of lesions can be easier to spot than changes to your moles because they stand out more and often come with itching, bleeding, or irritating side effects.
If you see anything like this on your skin, it’s important to speak to your derm straight away. They’ll again carry out a biopsy.
Are there any other ways I can prevent skin cancer?
As well as checking regularly for signs of skin cancer, there are some additional ways you can protect yourself and your skin:
- Don’t sunbathe outside without SPF or use tanning beds at all
- Wear an SPF at all times — yes, even during the winter — and make sure you’re applying the right amount
- Use self-tanning products if you like a natural, sun-kissed glow — sunless tanning poses no risk to your health
- Add additional layers of protection when in hot places or on holiday, like sun hats, beach cover-ups and sunglasses
Even if you’re a reformed tanner, some damage may have been done from your early years of UV tanning. But by keeping an eye on any changes to your freckles and moles or identifying any new lesions, you can prevent skin cancer before it becomes serious. You’ve nailed down a safe and effective beauty routine now — but don’t let past bad habits come back to haunt you.