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Why it’s important to protect your skin at every age- a dermatologist explains

November 15, 2020

Why it’s important to protect your skin at every age- a dermatologist explains

UV exposure from the sun is the single greatest risk factor for skin cancer. With around 2,000 Australians dying from skin cancer every year, protecting yourself from the sun, no matter what your age, is as important as ever. 

Dermatologists are specialists trained in the diagnosis and treatment of all skin diseases including skin cancer. The Australasian College of Dermatologists provides guidance to the community on the dangers of everyday sun exposure, and how to reduce your risk of skin cancer. We provide guidance on how to check your own skin and when and where to seek advice from a medical professional. 

This week, as part of National Skin Cancer Action Week, we are urging Australians to be aware that the need to protect your skin doesn’t just apply to days at the beach when you are young.  

A lot of us remember the Slip, Slop, Slap campaign of the 80’s and 90’s. Australians have become very good at protecting our children, however, we are seeing a high incidence of 25-44 year-olds neglecting themselves when it comes to sun protection. While a lot has changed since that original campaign, it’s still the same sun, making protecting yourself at every age as important as ever. 

As we age, our relationship to the sun changes. Adults are more likely to spend time in the sun at weekends and when on holidays. As a result, we can forget that protecting our skin should be part of our everyday routine, not just when enjoying a weekend outdoors. 

The best way to protect your skin is by following the five SunSmart rules – slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat, seek shade and slide on sunglasses. Doing these five steps every day, no matter what your age, can significantly reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. 

It is also important to recognise that the areas of our bodies that are exposed to the sun in our daily lives can differ as we get older. As part of your daily routine, be sure to apply sunscreen and protective clothing to key areas such as backs of hands, face, ears, arms, and top of the head for those experiencing hair thinning or hair loss, to help reduce your risk of skin cancer. 

As well as UV exposure from the sun, other risk factors for skin cancer include:  

  • fair skin and hair; 
  • a high number of common moles or unusual moles; 
  • a weakened or suppressed immune system;  
  • a family history of melanoma;  
  • previous personal diagnosis of melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancer. 

 Be familiar with your skin. Performing self-examinations of your whole body, including scalp, hands, and feet, with a hand mirror in front of a bathroom wall mirror can help to identify any suspicious moles or spots. People should see their GP for a skin check and discuss referral to a dermatologist if they are at high risk of skin cancer or require specialist care. 

Survival rates for skin cancer have improved with earlier detection and better treatment options; however, survival rates remain low for skin cancers that are diagnosed at an advanced stage. The earlier that skin cancer is diagnosed and treated, the greater the chance of survival. 

Don’t forget to look after yourself and your family this summer by following the five SunSmart rules, getting your skin checked, knowing your skin cancer risk and checking with your GP if you need further specialist advice from a dermatologist. 

For further information on the risk factors of skin cancer, visit: 

A/Prof David Francis FACD and President, ACD