No matter how diligent you are with the sunscreen application, regular exposure to the sun's rays can cause subtle changes to your skin's condition. When you know your skin, you're equipped to identify anything that's worth getting checked.
Often, skin cancer doesn't hurt or cause bothersome symptoms, which means it's up to you to look for it. The sooner you catch a potential issue, the more likely you are to manage the problem with minimal intervention.
It can be a good idea to mark regular dates on your calendar or set reminders in your phone to ensure you're checking your skin at set intervals throughout the year, too. This time of year, before you’re spending extra time in the sun, is ideal to start noting your skin’s spots, freckles and moles.
Know your risk
While it's true that people with fair skin, red, blonde or light brown hair, and an excess of freckles and moles are more susceptible to sun damage, all skin types can be affected by excess exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Even if you don't fall into the riskiest category, the message from the Ministry of Health is clear: anyone can get skin cancer, and everyone should be aware of their skin.
How to do a comprehensive check
Changes can occur in any area of your skin, including parts that don't regularly see the sun, so make sure you take the time to do more than a cursory glance. That means undressing completely, checking in decent lighting, and looking from your scalp, right through to the soles of your feet and in between your toes.
The best way to do a full body check is to use a full-length mirror so you can see your back as well. It can also be helpful to ask a family member, friend or partner to help you with areas that are tricky to see.
What am I looking for?
According to Skin Smart New Zealand, there's an easy way to remember the key changes you're looking for. They suggest following the ABCDE guidelines. Here's how they work:
A = asymmetry This means one side of the mole looks different to the other.
B = border irregularity Here you're looking for edges of a mole that are irregular, discoloured or blurring into the surrounding skin.
C = colour variation These moles or birthmarks may be more than one colour. They can be a mix of brown and black shades. They may also have red, blue or white components.
D = diameter Keep an eye out for size changes. If the mole or birthmark is larger than six millimetres or it has grown, get it checked.
E = evolving Overall, keep an eye out for any general change, which will be easier to see when you look at your skin regularly. Look for changes to the size, colour, raised skin, itching, bleeding and crusting. If a skin spot is bleeding or crusting, book an appointment with your GP as soon as you can.