I’m sure many of you will know the common risks for developing skin cancer already, but I thought it’d briefly discuss them just to make sure.
I by no means want to scare you or cause unnecessary worry, but I think it can be useful to know whether you fall into a high risk category so you can take extra precautions to protect your skin in the future. If it helps, I think I’m quite high risk, but knowing this encourages me to be extra careful when in the sun which should hopefully keep my skin healthy (and youthful!) for years to come.
KNOW YOUR SKIN TYPE
Knowing what skin type you are is one of the easiest ways to assess your risk and can give you an idea of how careful you need to be. Remember, just because you have a tan does not mean your skin type changes! Think of your skin in the middle of winter when it hasn’t seen the sun in a longtime and use that to guide you.
The lower your skin type, the higher your risk of skin cancer.
TYPE 1- Pale skin which burns very easily and rarely tans. These people generally have light coloured or red hair and freckles.
TYPE 2- Fair skin that usually burns, but can gradually tan. This can include people with dark hair and fair skin (this one is me!)
TYPE 3- Skin that burns with long or intense exposure to the sun but gradually tans quite easily
TYPE 4- Olive coloured skin that tans easily but can burn if exposed to intense sun for long periods of time. These people usually have brown hair and eyes.
TYPE 5- Naturally brown skin, with dark hair and eyes. Tans easily and will only burn if exposed excessively to the sun.
TYPE 6- Black skin with brown eyes and black hair. Very, very unlikely to burn.
RISK FACTORS FOR SKIN CANCER:
There are various factors that can make you at higher risk of developing skin cancer, and I suppose the more of these you have, the more at risk you are. This does not mean you are going to get skin cancer but should just encourage you to be extra careful when it comes to protecting your skin.
- SUNBURN: those who have previously had severe sunburn, especially if it caused blisters or it was in childhood.
- LOTS OF MOLES: those who have more than 50 normal looking moles.
- ABNORMAL MOLES: If you’re moles are unusual looking, for example, very large with a strange shape or uneven colour pattern.
- FAMILY HISTORY: If someone in your close family such as a parent or sibling has had skin cancer, you’re at higher risk too.
- SUPPRESSED IMMUNE SYSTEM: If you’re on medication that suppresses your immune system such as people having chemotherapy, or on other medications that suppress your immune system. Don’t worry, these medications are quite rare and your doctor will tell you if it suppresses your immune system before starting it.
- OUTSIDE LIFESTYLE: If you’ve spent a lot of your life outside, for example, as a result of your job or hobbies you’re at higher risk of skin cancer. Obviously, people who have spent their life in the glorious Australian sunshine are probably going to be at higher risk than us Brits, but we’re no means safe from skin damage. I’m sure most of us have been unexpectedly burned on a cloudy day- I know I have.
- SUNBEDS AND SUNBATHING: If you’re a sun worshipper and love to spend hours regularly topping up your tan or have ever used sunbeds, you’ll be at higher risk too.
- AGE: the older you get, the more likely you are to get skin cancer, probably as you’ll have seen more sun over the years. That said, it can effect young people too, so it’s always important to keep an eye on your skin.
As I said, I think of myself as quite high risk. As well as having type 2 skin, I’ve had a few episodes of severe sunburn in my lifetime, I have a lot of moles, and lead quite an outdoors lifestyle. I’m not a sun worshipper but have done my fair share of sunbathing over the years. I’m also embarrassed to admit that I have used a sunbed twice in the past (I really should have known better.) So, if you think you’re high risk, you’re definitely not the only one. We can’t change the bad choices or “sunburn accidents” of the past, but we can make better choices in the future, and I intend to!
In the next post I’ll be discussing how to protect your skin this summer, so keep your eyes open for that one!
ALSO IN THE SKIN SERIES: