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The importance of regular checks for sun damage

I recently had my yearly visit to the dermatologist. I go once a year because I have very fair skin and living in Australia puts me in the high risk category for skin cancer. Every dermatologist I have seen has told me similar thing. I should be living in Scotland, England, Norway or Alaska.

Some of you may think why do I use a dermatologist instead of just going to a skin cancer clinic? It is a personal decision for everyone. I feel it necessary due to the fairness of my skin that I see a specialist.

Getting checked regardless of skin colour is the most important message.

I had my first treatment to remove sun spots (solar keratosis) at age 19. Usually they are frozen with liquid nitrogen if you get it diagnosed early. I had so many on the back of my neck that freezing them all was not really an option. This is due to the blisters caused by this treatment and also the possible scarring. The scar is usually a white spot.

Instead I was prescribed with a cream which does the same job. The difference is that it allows a large area to be treated without the scarring. The cream takes longer and can get very uncomfortable. However since I have had to use it to treat my face the no scar benefit alone makes it worthwhile.

I am now 32 and once again need to redo the back of my neck to clear the sun spots. This time I have been advised to apply the cream differently. I’ll let you know how this goes since it is supposed to reduce the soreness. I will probably have to this every 5 years as I age and the damage caused earlier in life comes to the surface.
During my visit I learnt a few things that I think would be worthwhile to share:

  • I have approximately a 10 minute limit in the sun before my skin starts to get burnt and only 4 minutes before my skin starts to get damaged. The damage does not mean sun burn. Sun burn is extreme skin damage. Your skin cells can be damaged without showing any visible sign until later in life.
  • Look at the skin under your arm. That is what your undamaged skin looks like. That was a bit of a reality check for me since I am covered in freckles. Every freckle is a little reminder that I have damaged my skin. The skin under my arm might actually be a new shade of white which would look fantastic as a wall tile
  • I need to wear sunscreen every day and reapply at lunch time. I already thought I was very good with wearing sunscreen but knowing that I have a 10 minute limit without it I need to improve.
  • SPF increases the amount of time you can spend in the sun. So using my 10 minute limit as an example, if I use a SPF 30+ cream I can stay in the sun for approximately 300 minutes before getting burnt. Some factors that affect this are your skin type (e.g. fair or dark), time of day, geographic location and how much you sweat.
  • If you have any moles or suspicious looking skin spots take photos of them yearly. This will allow you to see if they change. It is very hard to notice change when you look at them every day.
  • Just because winter is coming doesn’t mean that the sunscreen gets packed away. The Australian sun can still cause damage.

I know we have all the seen the ads about skin cells in trauma. But have you taken note of the message? I know I hadn’t because it just seemed like the Government was nagging me instead of my Mum.

Even when the Dermatologist was giving advice it took a great deal to stop myself from rolling my eyes. I had heard it all before but for some reason whilst driving home it I started thinking about it from a different perspective.

Instead of being annoyed at yet another lecture, I allowed the message to sink in. I will probably need reminding again in the future because lazy habits are hard to break.

I too may now have come across as nagging. But I don’t care because if one person is reminded to go and get checked then I can live with it.