Skin cancer is a growing problem worldwide, most commonly caused by overexposure to the sun.
Avoiding the sun is the most obvious solution but in a place like the Cayman Islands, that is easier said than done.
According to statistics from Cancer Research UK, one in 54 people are diagnosed with cancerous melanoma in their lifetime – and those statistics will be higher in places that receive more daily sunshine.
If you spend a lot of time in the sun, either for work or pleasure, your risk of getting skin cancer is already higher. Risks increase if you have fairer skin and hair, blue or green eyes, freckles or regularly use artificial sun beds and UV lamps.
Prevention and early detection are essential to avoid this potentially fatal form of cancer, as is keeping your skin healthy by practicing good habits.
Detecting skin cancer
Detecting changes in your skin’s health and looking out for signs of damage should be done on a regular basis.
“Ideally you should examine your skin once a month,” says dermatologist Dr. Alison Duncan of TrinCay Medical Services Ltd. “Look everywhere for a new or changing mole and slowly growing patches or lumps which do not heal.”
It’s also important to check the skin under your arms, on your scalp and between your fingers and toes. When checking, look for the two main types of cancer: melanoma and non-melanoma. Melanoma is the most serious and can usually be detected by noticing new, changing or abnormal moles. The more common non-melanoma cancers are less fatal and detected by discoloration on the skin or marks that bleed and take a long time to heal.
Treating damaged skin
If skin cancer is detected early, it is possible to treat it although there may be long-lasting damage. Melanoma is typically treated by surgically removing the cancer, while non-melanoma cancers can be frozen off or treated with creams and light therapy.
If your skin has been damaged by the sun, it may be sensitive and require a specific skincare routine. Sharron Eyers, owner of Le Visage skincare boutique in Camana Bay, recommends using organic products containing aloe, agave and lavender oil that will help soothe and hydrate burnt skin, gently aiding in its repair.
Exposure to direct sun can also prematurely age your skin. For reducing the appearance of wrinkles, Eyers suggests evening primrose oil and flaxseed oils which contain omega-3 and gamma-linolenic acid that help improve elasticity and keep your skin moisturized.
Looking after your skin
The most effective way of protecting your skin from the sun is to cover it with clothing and sunscreen. The sun is usually strongest between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. so it’s best to avoid direct sunlight during these hours. If you can’t, apply a sunscreen with a high UVA rating and an SPF of at least 30 every two hours (more frequently if you are swimming or exercising). Protect your eyes and scalp with sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat.
Applying an after-sun lotion after being outside will help keep your skin hydrated and soothe any burning. Medical esthetician Sarah Deresti of the Da Vinci Wellness Centre also recommend using topical vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant, which helps brighten the skin and boost collagen production.
Deresti suggests incorporating serums and creams into your daily skincare routine which contain hyaluronic acid, a substance that helps bind water to the skin to keep it hydrated. You should also look for products with such ingredients as green tea, vitamin C and peptides, and avoid any containing alcohol or para-aminobenzoic acid.
It’s important that you:
• Always protect your skin when going out in the sun.
• Never use a sunscreen that has gone beyond its expiry date.
• Use a water-resistant sunscreen.
• Visit your GP or dermatologist if you notice anything abnormal on your skin.
Sources: Dr. Alison Duncan, Cayman Island Cancer Society, Le Visage, Da Vinci Wellness Centre, Cancer Research UK