In the run-up to the hotter months of the year, aesthetic practitioner Dr JJ Masani puts the spotlight on the risks to your skin that can come with too much sun exposure
With the recent, and alarming, news that eight out of ten people are failing to apply sunscreen properly before going out in the sun, we spoke to leading aesthetic doctor and mole removal specialist, Dr JJ Masani about what you can do to prevent serious harm to you skin.
The poll, conducted by British Association of Dermatologists (BAD), found that 80% of us don’t apply sunscreen before going out in the sun.
The survey also found that 70% of people fail to reapply sunscreen every two hours as recommended.
In a previous survey by the Association, 72% of people admitted they had been sunburned in the previous year, with 35% of people surveyed only seeking shade if they were hot, rather than to avoid burning.
All of this is of concern given that the risk of developing melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — more than doubles in people with a history of sunburn compared with people who have never been sunburned.
Dr Masani warns: ‘If you have a family history of skin cancer — or if you have multiple moles or a mole that has changed shape, colour or are itchy or bleeding — then you need to be examined by a doctor who use a dermascope to diagnose the nature of the mole.
‘If a mole has to be excised, we examine the mole under the dermascope (polarised light) to diagnose and rule out if it is a malignant mole, which requires wide and deep excision. Fortunately, this is not too common. If the pigments of the benign mole are not deeper than the epidermis (85-90% of moles), then excision by radiowave will leave minimal to no scarring.
‘If pigments are deep into the dermis, then one can stop at the dermis to avoid scarring and allow the pigments to rise to the surface in 4-6 months’ time when they can be excised by radio-wave on a second or third attempt (10-15% of benign moles) with minimal scarring.’
He adds: ‘It is interesting to note that, if someone has multiple moles — say 50 — and all were fully excised, it offers no security against not developing skin cancer or malignant melanoma.’
Most patients seek Dr Masani’s mole removal treatment for aesthetic purposes alone. He has been using radio wave since 1991 and is only one of three surgeons using this technique. The treatment is not only a comfortable and quick procedure, but is also usually scar free.
He explains: ‘Recovery time for scabs to fall is 10-12 days and the skin colour to match adjoining skin can be three months or more. Patients can wash and bathe the area from day one and medical camouflage make-up can also be used from day one, so there’s not much downtime.’
Before treatment, a full medical history is taken and this includes family history of any cancers and skin cancer.
High risk factors for skin cancers include:
- Very fair skin that burns easily/does not tan
- Red hair
- Multiple moles on the body
- Skin that has suffered sunburn many times, especially when young.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and rates have been climbing since the 1960s. Every year over 250,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer — the most common type — are diagnosed, in addition to over 13,000 new cases of melanoma, resulting in around 2,148 deaths annually.
Stevie Cameron of La Roche-Posay adds: ‘It’s really important that the British public are using the right sunscreen. When choosing a sunscreen, it is important to look for a high SPF value, such as 30 or 50+ that protects against UVB rays. In addition, it is very important to look for a circled UVA logo. This means the sunscreen meets EU requirements for UVA protection, rays that are present all year-round. Today the best sunscreens provide protection against UVB and UVA rays. As for those who do not “get on” with the texture of normal sunscreens — there are textures on the market that are specifically formulated for sensitive, dry or oily and blemish-prone skin.’
Sun protection tips
Spend time in the shade during the sunniest part of the day when the sun is at its strongest, which is usually between 11am-3pm in the summer months. Limit exposing skin to 15-30 minutes — this is beneficial for Vitamin D production and avoids sunburn!
When it is not possible to stay out of the sun, keeping yourself well covered, with a hat and a T-shirt. An umbrella/sunshade and sunglasses offer additional protection
Apply sunscreen liberally to exposed areas of skin. Re-apply every two hours and straight after swimming or towelling in order to maintain protection
If you are exposing your body for longer than 30 minutes, wear sunblock of 30+ and reapply every two hours. Long time exposure to sunlight is only meant for the green plants!
Checking for skin cancer
There are two main types of skin cancer: non-melanoma, the most common, and melanoma, which is less common but more dangerous. The following ABCD-Easy rules show you a few changes that might indicate a 'melanoma', which is the deadliest form of skin cancer.
ABCD-Easy rule Asymmetry — the two halves of the area may differ in shape
Border — the edges of the area may be irregular or blurred, and sometimes show notches
Colour — this may be uneven. Different shades of black, brown and pink may be seen
Diameter — most melanomas are at least 6mm in diameter. Report any change in size, shape or diameter to your doctor
Expert — if in doubt, check it out! If your GP is concerned about your skin, make sure you see a Consultant Dermatologist, the most expert person to diagnose a skin cancer. Your GP can refer you via the NHS
Non-melanoma skin cancer
Non-melanoma skin cancers can occur on any part of the body, but are most common on areas of skin that most often exposed to the sun such as your head and neck (including lips and ears) and the backs of your hands. They can also appear where the skin has been damaged by X-rays, and on old scars, ulcers, burns and persistent wounds. Non-melanoma skin cancers vary greatly in what they look like. They tend to appear gradually on the skin, and slowly get bigger over time. They will not go away on their own without treatment. Some possible signs include:
A scab or sore that won’t heal. It may also bleed occasionally
A scaly or crusty patch of skin that looks red or inflamed
A flesh coloured, pearly lump that won’t go away and appears to be growing in size
A lump on the skin, which is getting bigger and that may be scabby