Keep your skin in check
Remember the days when smothering your skin in coconut oil was to achieve two primary goals - smelling like summer and slowly basting your skin to a deep shade of golden brown - when the weather was beckoning? Or when a ‘rashie’ was a rash vest worn only by surfers for the purpose of preventing chafing and had nothing to do with blocking out harmful ultra violet (UV) radiation.
If only being Sun Smart was cool back then
It was only as recently as 1980 that Australia’s Cancer Council launched one of the most successful awareness campaigns in health prevention/promotion history, “Slip Slop Slap, tad da, in the sun this summer say, Slip, Slop, Slap”. For many of us, this raising of awareness of the potential damage that UVA and UVB rays could cause to our body’s largest and most exposed organ, our skin, was simply too late. Our attitudes and behaviours were habitual around ‘soaking up some rays’, making the most of our home ‘girt by sea’ and comfortably sitting south enough of the equator to welcome our solar friend with open arms (pardon the pun).
I know that I’m still sometimes taken aback when I see toddlers on the beach with zinc cream, rash vest (sometimes long sleeves), hat (in and out of the water) and sunglasses! Then I take a glimpse at my ageing skin, clearly accelerated by years of sun damage in harsh Queensland sun, and wonder what my skin might be like now had I been a sunglass wearing toddler. Touch wood, I’ve been fortunate enough not to have a skin cancer diagnosis or even a scare – but the fear is always there knowing what I know now.
Know your skin ‘like the back of your hand’
Almost 2,000 Australians die as a direct result of skin cancer every year. Two thirds of Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer before they’ve reached 70 years of age. According to the Cancer Council’s website, between 95 and 99% of skin cancers are caused by exposure to sun.
To avoid surgery, obvious scarring or disfigurement or death, early detection of skin cancer is absolutely vital. So if the damage is already done, it’s not too late. Adopt Sun Smart strategies whenever you are exposing yourself to sun.
‘I know it like the back of my hand’ is a good saying to keep in mind for early detection of skin cancer. Get to know every square centimetre of your skin (with a friend, partner of professionals help) and keep an eye out for any changes. Any change in size, shape, texture or colour should see you booking yourself into your local GP or skin clinic for a check up.
What do I need to be looking out for and how often?
Here are the Australian Cancer Council’s three key recommendations for early detection of skin cancer:
- “The general public, particularly those aged 40 and over, should be encouraged to check all areas of their skin, including skin not normally exposed to the sun. Look for changes in shape, colour or size of a pigmented lesion or a new lesion regularly (every three months). Individuals should seek assistance from others to check difficult to see areas such as their back.
- Individuals who are concerned about skin cancer risk or skin changes should seek advice from a medical practitioner and discuss their skin cancer risk and need for medical checks or self examination.
- Outdoor workers should be encouraged to regularly check their skin for suspicious spots. It is important that workers know what their skin looks like normally so changes will be noticed.”
Sunsmart’s website has some really clear images and examples of the different types of sun spots and lesions you should be looking out for and seeing a doctor about.
Steps for self-examination is also a very useful Sunsmart reference to help you get into the practice of regularly checking your skin. There are also many skin clinics around that specialise in ‘mapping’ your skin and keeping a record on file, and then checking regularly for any changes. Sunsmart has a skin clinic consumer guide available to help you choose a reputable skin clinic.
Make ‘slip, slop, slap, seek and slide’ a habit
Just because you spent your youth radiant in golden brown, or in my case rosy red, it doesn’t mean that it’s too late to prevent any further damage. Use the children at your local playground or beach as role models, and follow their lead:
- Slip on clothing that covers as much skin as possible, particularly when the UV rating is high. The Bureau of Meteorology and the Sunsmart website provide a UV index forecasts and alerts.
- Slop on sunscreen 20 minutes before you head outside. Ideally it should be SPF30+, water resistant and reapplied every 2 hours.
- Slap on a hat. Make sure it shades your face, neck, top of your head and ears.
- Seek shade wherever possible.
- Slide on sunglasses that meet Australian Standards for sun protection.
If you’re concerned about recent reports about getting enough Vitamin D, the Cancer Council advises that you only need a few minutes of mid-morning sun for your body to produce sufficient Vitamin D.
Look after your skin and glow with health instead of melanin damage. Your skin is after all, your body’s largest organ.