Wednesday, 9 December 2015

The Importance of Sun Protection

Today’s post is something that I really want to talk about, something that is close to my heart & of utmost importance, especially now that it’s summer in Australia.

I’m talking about sun protection.

I know what you’re thinking. “Yeah sure, I know about all that slip slop slap bizzo, but do I really need to be so vigilant in the sun? Can I get away with not wearing sunscreen all the time? It’s not like I’m ever going to get skin cancer, right?”

Why am I saying this? Because as of last Friday, at the ripe old age of 31, I joined that club.

I became a statistic.

I’ll talk more about my case later & what you can do to prevent skin cancers from occurring in the first place, but first I'll explain how I got into this position.

The odds have been stacked against me from the get go. My skin is fair; therefore I'm prone to sunburn and have had a number of bad ones in my time (although not recently). Being light in eye colour doesn’t help either, so my baby blues have something to answer for. Despite being vigilant enough with sunscreen (and zinc in my younger days) when I’ve been at the beach or in the pool, sunscreen is something I haven’t always worn when I've been out & about during the day & I know for a fact that I went through a big chunk of my 20's not wearing sunscreen if I went out for a walk during the hottest part of the day. My excuse for not always wearing sunscreen was pitiful - I didn't like the greasy feel of it on my skin. Thankfully sunscreen formulations have come quite a long way even in the last 10 years and yet despite having at least one bottle of the stuff lying around my house at all times, I had that classic Aussie attitude towards not wearing it - "she'll be right".

Boy, was I wrong.

Thankfully for myself, neither of my 2 skin cancers are melanomas, aka the most invasive and potentially deadly of all skin cancers; however, one of them is a form of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and I will have to have it surgically removed, even though mine is slow-growing & by all appearances superficial. That one is smack bang in the middle of my forehead (the other is on my right cheek, near my nose & top lip - it's a different type of skin cancer that won't require surgery), so there's no escaping it; although having read up on the type of surgery I'm about to have, it has a high cure rate & I've been assured that my surgeon will do all he can to minimise scarring. I'm trying my best not to think about that; but I would be lying if I said I wasn't a bit concerned about scarring & what I will look like down the track. I guess if the worst occurs, I'll just get a fringe cut back into my hair to hide it.

This news has been a real wake-up call for me, not just in terms of keeping myself protected in the sun but also in terms of what to look for when it comes to skin cancers. I've always thought of skin cancer in terms of moles - either brown or reddish-brown in appearance, like a raised freckle and like the ones featured in the melanoma link above. I guess that's why I didn't think much of mine at first - I just thought it was stubborn eczema, refusing to go away. Now I know better.

So dear reader, here's a few things I'd like you to take away from all this:

  • Know what to look out for when it comes to skin cancers. Don't just look out for moles - also look out for any sores that don't appear to heal, or red patches that are eczema-like in appearance but don't go away. Bowen's disease in particular can be mistaken for eczema or psoriasis, so if you're in doubt, go to your doctor & ask for a referral to a dermatologist for a skin cancer check, especially if you're fair-skinned like me.
  • Skin cancer can strike at any age. The patch/skin cancer on my cheek popped up when I was 27, the 2nd one popped up about 6-12 months later. It took me another 2 1/2-3 years before I finally went for a skin cancer check, albeit with concerns about a spot on my arm & another spot on my left cheek. It doesn't matter whether you're young or old, it could occur & it's best to get things seen to sooner rather than later.
  • If you're someone who uses solariums/tanning beds to get a bronzed body, STOP. I'm aiming this more so at any overseas readers (although Kiwis/New Zealanders are exempt, they know the deal as much as us Aussies do), seeing as solariums/tanning beds have largely been outlawed in Australia after some major campaigning from melanoma sufferers (although by all accounts some Aussies still use them *smh*). That shit is dangerous. Use fake tan to get that bronzed look instead - your skin will thank you for it when you're 70 & you don't look like a shar pei or worse. Although I personally don't use the stuff, fake tan formulations have also come a long way in recent years & there's a myriad of tanning varieties to suit everyone from beginners to hard core I-can't-live-without-a-tan types. Forgo the bed, use a bottle instead.
  • ALWAYS WEAR SUNSCREEN. Make this your new mantra. I can't stress this enough to my fellow Australians. Hell, if you're reading this & you're about to travel to my beautiful country any time soon, please for the love of your deity of choice, keep this advice fresh in your mind. The Australian sun is harsh no matter what time of year it is and it is particularly harsh during summer. Even if it's cloudy, I don't care, slap on the SPF anyway. I've been sunburnt on a cloudy day before, so take that as a warning. Also, make sure you buy a new sunscreen at the beginning of each summer and keep it in a cool place - it expires quicker in hot conditions.
  • You can spend as much money as you want on anti-aging serums & the like, but sunscreen will be your best defence in that department. Ingrid of Fabulous & Fun Life fame has a post about this subject, so pop on over & have a read.
  • Don't just stop at sunscreen. Pop on a hat, wear your sunglasses, wear protective clothing &/or stay in the shade as much as possible. You know, the "slip slop slap seek & slide" principle. I know I've looked at this picture of Nigella Lawson on Bondi Beach with thoughts of ridicule before, but I concede now that the woman had a point and besides, have you seen her skin lately? That woman looks luminous for someone in her 50's. I'm not sure if she's had any procedures done to her skin, but if she has then the world ought to know her secrets because I reckon she looks pretty good.
I realise I sound quite alarmist with everything I've said & I really don't mean to sound like a nagging parent, but this is the cold hard truth of living in a country like mine. I'm not saying avoid the sun altogether - it is still safe to be out in the sun without protection (in fact, it's vital for our Vitamin D levels), just not at the hottest times of the day. If you're not sure of when you need protection, there is the Sun Smart app you can download for your phone. Take all of these steps & who knows, maybe you'll avoid the same fate that I've been dealt with.

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Have you or someone you know had skin cancer before? If so, has that changed your ways when it comes to sun protection?


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