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March is Melanoma Awareness Month

Don't get me wrong we all love to feel a little summer sun on our skin - it tends to radiate warmth through our entire bodies but living in Australia we have some of the highest rates of skin cancers and its time to take Melanoma's seriously!

As a skin technician I can confidentially say I think we have a communication barrier with the youth of all our generations.

The bikini wearing, lazy summer holidays and insta worthy images mean they lay out in the sun building that perfect summer tan line - its something to be proud of (insert shock horror). As we age I am confident to say we know better, start to think about the ageing process and also lets face it most of us are running around after little ones so who has time to lay in the sun and bake ourselves senseless.

I often hear the words from the 40-65 year old human (whilst treating clients for pigmentation conditions) I protect my skin from the sun each day!  "NOW! is my reply You Do NOW" - but not when you were 15. This is where the damage begins and you can't turn it back.

As its Melanoma Awareness Month lets shine a light and talk Melanomas and how we can protect ourselves from these.

Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer. It develops in the skin’s pigment cells, known as melanocytes, and can spread via the blood and lymphatic system to distant organs like the lungs, liver and brain.

Melanocytes produce melanin to help protect the skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation i.e. sunlight. When these cells cluster together in the skin during childhood or adolescence they form a mole. Melanoma occurs when abnormal melanocytes grow in an uncontrolled way. About a third of all melanomas develop from existing moles, but they can also develop anywhere on the skin.

While melanoma usually begins in the skin (cutaneous melanoma), less commonly it can start in the eye (ocular melanoma) or the moist tissue that lines certain parts of the inside of your body (mucosal melanoma). It can occur anywhere you have melanocytes, even if they are not exposed to sunlight. A primary melanoma is the site of origin of a melanoma.

Melanomas can be black, brown, pink or even skin coloured.

Causes

Over exposure to UV radiation causes 95% of melanomas. Melanoma risk is increased for people who have:

  • unprotected sun exposure
  • a history of tanning and sunburn, especially during childhood and adolescence
  • lots of moles
  • atypical moles
  • already had a skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma (BCC) or squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
  • fair skin, red hair, blue eyes or skin that burns easily
  • a family history of melanoma, especially if they developed it at a young age (i.e. less than 40)
  • certain genetic variations that can be inherited in families.

Check your risk

Although people with fair skin have a higher risk of melanoma, melanoma can affect anyone regardless of skin type, ethnicity, age or gender. Although people with olive skin have a lower risk, the risk of melanoma is still there, especially if they have spent a lot of time in the sun.

It is essential to have a skin check with a qualified practitioner - GP, Dermatologist and in Australia we have some great Skin Cancer Clinics where you can seek the service of a full body skin check. This should be done at least bi-annually and more frequent if you have had previous Skin Cancers.

The best way to protect yourself 

Is following the 5 most common steps (all together)

  • Wear a hat always (and not just a peak cap but a full brimmed cap for protection
  • Wear clothing that covers your body
  • Seek shade where possible
  • Always wear sunglasses but check they should be UV protected too
  • Apply sunscreen as per the requested and required product recommendation

A little note on sunscreen as this is a broad topic and can sometimes be very confusing. We have multiple sunscreens varying from Tinted moisturiser, through to your thick and protective beach applications, some are water proof some not. Broad spectrum, chemical, physical the list goes on. It can be challenging to select what is right for you.

Sunscreen

Using SPF 50+ sunscreen is one of the 5 Sun Safe Rules to protect your skin and minimise your risk of skin cancer including melanoma. In Australia, all sunscreens are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. The best sunscreen is the one you actually apply!! It’s a personal choice, so find a sunscreen that you like to use.

It is important to:

  • Use the highest possible SPF sunscreen (currently SPF50+ in Australia) with broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection. SPF is the ‘Sun Protection Factor’ against UVB which causes most damage. For eg, SPF 50 will provide 50 times the amount of time without sun damage, compared to not using sunscreen.
  • Apply enough sunscreen – most Australians don’t. Slapping it on before you head out for the day simply is not enough. Ensure that any skin that will be exposed to the sun is covered in sunscreen. A good guide is the ‘7 teaspoon’ rule –one teaspoon for each limb, one teaspoon each for your front and back of your torso, and half a teaspoon each for your face and neck. (this sounds like an extraordinary amount but is exactly the required amount)
  • Re-apply regularly – about every 2 hours, or more frequently if swimming or exercising.
  • There is a lot of chatter around the difference between Physical and Chemical based sunscreens - when talking about these I explain " these two words are the way in which the product/ingredient works. Its not that Chemical is reference to the ingredient in the sunscreen but the chemical reaction that occurs when the sun connects with the ingredient within the sunscreen and your skin".

PHYSICAL

Was widely known as the ingredient most preferred for sensitive skins - most effective as it repelled the suns rays. There is many a clinical study to show it is not as effective as once thought and that there is still some chemical reaction with Zinc Oxide or Physical based sunscreens, however it is much less.

Zinc Oxide also provides us a great broad spectrum choice meaning it protects against UVA and UVB rays combined.

CHEMICAL

Is the action of the sun absorbing to the ingredient, a process of destroying the UV ray begins allowing your skin to be limited to exposure or damage of your healthy cells. Chemical sunscreens can be more likely to cause irritation to the skin, but often it may be the other ingredients housed in the product too - think fragrance and emulsifiers - these often cause rashes and skin barrier damage.

Select what works for you - but always aim for 50+ and my personal recommendation is ignore the fancy ones that promise skin ingredients in them too - its over complicated and sunscreen is a barrier - not a skincare active product. Stick to your lane I say!

So as the months of Summer pass us please don't forget its equally important to address post summer skin but you MUST always use SPF every month of the year/seasons.

If you choose to avoid sunscreen because it causes havoc with your skin remember its a physical and superficial barrier so can easily be removed with the effective skin care products.

Essential is Cleanser to breakdown the ingredients - remember 30-60 seconds! Try a Cleansing Cloth (its a game changer for sunscreen) and twice a week use a chemical based exfoliant to ensure vitality in the skin cells - this means less likely to clog and congest.

Happy Melanoma Awareness Month

M x

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