Health

Sunday 21 September 2014

Neglecting your skin in the sun can have lasting effects

Sunscreen should be worn every day – even in the winter

Sunscreen should be worn every day

I really enjoy watching golf. I'm not so good at playing it and can't remember the last time I actually picked up a golf club, but I grew up in a family where both parents enjoy the sport and family TV at the weekends often involved watching whatever PGA tournament was in progress.

I'm not sure whether it's the family memories or the manner of commentating that draws me, but I find it very relaxing. Being a spectator at the Masters is on my bucket list.

I've been watching quite a lot of it lately as I have been trying to put my feet up a bit as my pregnancy draws to an end. I suppose once a doctor, always a doctor, and I found myself commenting on how the skin of many golfers is weathered and aged well beyond their years.

This is no doubt due to the fact that most tournaments take place in a warm climate and the average round of golf usually involves three to four hours of sun exposure during the hottest part of the day.

Whatever the reason, it's a stark reminder of just how much damage frequent prolonged sun exposure can cause.

Of course in Ireland we don't have to watch golf to see skin damaged from the sun. Just take a look around you when heading to work after a warm weekend and you will see many examples of those who have got themselves 'a bit of colour'.

If you can't see the glowing red skin you may actually feel the heat radiating off them if you get up close.

I don't propose us locking ourselves away altogether. A small amount of sun exposure will boost the body's levels of vitamin D, and getting out and about in natural sunlight boosts almost anyone's mood.

However, it is important to be aware of how to care for your skin and avoid any of the dangers that too much sun exposure can bring.

UV rays from sunlight are a major cause of premature ageing of the skin. To avoid looking old beyond your years, wear sunscreen all year. It's far more effective than buying expensive anti-ageing creams.

UV light also causes damage to the eyes, so wearing sunglasses isn't just a fashion statement. Most importantly, overexposure to the UV rays in sunlight is a major risk for the development of skin cancer. Protecting skin is essential to help reduce this risk.

Humans are a bit like Dalmatians – we are born with few if any spots or moles but new ones develop as we age.

Normal moles start flat then may rise overtime before flattening out again and sometimes disappearing. The amount of moles a person will have depends on genetics and other factors, UV exposure being the major one.

Skin cancer can occur on all types of skin but there are a number of clear risks.

These include having fair skin (despite what many Irish people think about their ability to tan, we pretty much universally have fair skin), a personal or family history of skin cancer, excessive UV exposure, a history of blistering sunburn especially in childhood, the presence of lots of unusual moles on the body, weakened immunity and previous exposure to chemicals such as tar, petrol products, arsenic and soot. It takes 20 to 30 years for skin cancer to develop but damage is often done in childhood.

There are two main types of skin cancer: non-melanoma and melanoma.

Non-melanoma cancer is more common, affecting just over 6,000 Irish people a year. These cancers rarely spread but can cause damage to skin in the area they develop.

Melanoma is what is more commonly referred to as skin cancer and is potentially fatal. It affects approximately 600 Irish people a year and has the potential to spread to other parts of the body if not caught and removed early. The first sign of melanoma may be a change in an existing mole or a new mole appearing.

There is a simple guide to follow when checking your moles for change. This is referred to as the ABCDE classification.

A stands for asymmetry. Does the mole have an irregular shape or two different halves? B is for border. Are the edges notched or scalloped? C is for colour. Are there more than two colours or uneven distribution of colour within the mole? D is for diameter. Is it growing or changing in size? Finally, E is for evolving. Are there new changes such as crusting, bleeding or itching?

Most moles appear before the age of 30. Any new moles appearing after this carry a higher risk of abnormality and should be watched closely.

I'm not trying to ruin anyone's fun – I love the feel-good factor of sunlight as much as anyone else. Here are some tips to make sun exposure safe: Try to avoid prolonged direct sunlight exposure from 10am to 4pm when the rays are strongest.

Wear protective clothing: long sleeves, hat and sunglasses (minimum of 99pc UVA protection for adults and children). Wear sunscreen all year round: factor 30 in winter and factor 50 in summer.

Apply sun cream 30 minutes before sun exposure and reapply frequently.

Do not use tanning beds ever. The best way to get a rich glowing tan is from a bottle. Check your and your children's skin, top to toe, once a month.

Finally, don't sit at home worrying. Report any changes to your doctor. Abnormal moles caught early are easily removed and treated, leaving you many future years to enjoy the sun, whether it happens to be on the golf course or not!

Irish Independent

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