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Your skin and the sun. What to look out for?

Your skin and the sun. What to look out for?

We are increasingly aware of the need to take care of our skin and exposure to the sun is a very important factor in ageing and development of medical problems. It is important to know how to protect yourself from the sun and what signs to look for that might indicate something more serious and deserve a trip to the doctor.

Sun Protection

Doctors divide people into 5 broad skin types starting at 1 for caucasian people who never tan over to very dark skinned people who never burn. It is especially important for those who have fair skin and live or work in the sun often to use a high factor sun cream SPF 25 and to apply it regularly. This will help to protect the skin from developing sun damage. In addition it is best to avoid the mi day sun between 11am and 2pm if possible.

Sun damage

Fair skinned people who have been exposed to the sun for a long time can develop sun damage which is known in medical circles as Actinic Keratosis. This tends to look scaly, red and feel rough to the touch. It can be treated by ointment from the dermatologist as if left untreated it may develop into pre invasive skin cancer, known as Bowen’s disease or later it can develop into Squamous cell skin cancer (SCC). This can then need treatment by surgery or radiotherapy.

Basal Cell Cancer

This is less severe for of skin cancer but it is also the most common. It frequently develops on the face and back and can look like a raised pearly area that repeatedly scabs and bleeds but never heals. They grow very slowly and do not spread around the body. There are lots of ways of treating them including creams for very thin lesions and then surgery or radiotherapy for thicker tumours.

Moles (Naevi) and Melanoma

Many people have a large number of moles and it can be worrying if these change in colour or size as this may be an indication that they are becoming malignant. The common criteria for checking moles are known as the A,B,Cs.

A = Assymetry Symmetrical lesions are rarely malignant
B = Border An irregular border is a cause for concern
C = Colour Lots of different colours is a mole is worrying
D = Diameter Lesions under 6mm wide are less likely to be malignant
E = Elevation A raised lesion is more concerning than a flat one

These changes do not confirm the diagnosis and it is best to seek the opinion of a doctor who may be able to reassure you or arrange for a small sample known as a biopsy.

Some people have a lot of moles and keeping track of them can be very difficult and certain centres will offer a service known as mole mapping in which a photographic map is made of all of a persons moles. The patient can then keep this and it can very helpful to monitor changes over time

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