Check your skin often
The best way to know if your skin is developing cancer is to keep a close eye on it.
“If you have areas of sun damage like sun spots and solar keratosis [dry, crusty patches usually on the hands and face], that means you have to be really alert.” Other warning signs include any itchy or bleeding spots, red or pale lumps and new moles.
“Melanoma does not typically form within moles that you’ve had for 20 years. It’s actually more likely to come up as a new mole. So knowing where your moles are and being aware of any changes helps,” Professor Aranda says. “Other features of melanoma are when the edges become irregular and moles become thicker or change in shape.”
Lower legs are one of the most common areas for women to develop melanoma so ask a friend to check the backs of your legs plus your back, behind your ears, on your scalp, the soles of your feet and under your nails.
Anyone can ask their GP to examine their skin or book an appointment at a professional skin screening clinic. “If you have any changes, go to your doctor and get them to have a look.”
Avoid UV peak periods
If you’ve ever been sunburnt on a cloudy day, you’ll know it’s hard to detect when UV radiation is at risky levels. “It’s really difficult to tell how high the UV Index level is,” Professor Aranda says. “We used to recommend staying out of the sun between 11am to 3pm in summer and 10am to 2pm in winter, but it’s no longer thought about in those terms because UV changes so much across Australia throughout the year.”
The safest thing to do is check the official daily UV Index alert issued by the Bureau of Meteorology. If levels are forecast to reach three or above, stay out of the sun. Look out for UV rating forecasts on the Bureau of Meteorology website, TV, radio, in the newspaper weather reports or download the free SunSmart app on your phone.
Invest in the proper clothing
That sheer beach cover-up you reach for when you’ve had enough sun actually doesn’t offer much in the way of protection from harmful rays. “A lot of clothing made from materials like silk and cotton may not meet sun-filtering standards,” Professor Aranda cautions.
Consider a shirt made from UV protective fabric with a UPF 50+ rating to wear over your swimmers at the beach. If you’re going to be outdoors for extended periods gardening or playing golf, you can buy specialist clothing for these activities, too. Always look for long-sleeved tops that cover the back of your hands and a high collar to shield your neck. Loose-fitting clothes give better sun protection than tight garments.
Wear the right accessories
The best hats for sun safety should have a broad enough brim to shade your full face, ears and the back of your neck. Caps and visors don’t offer enough protection. “The hats on sale at the Cancer Council shop are sun-safe approved designs.”
But hats only work when you wear them so have a couple and keep them handy. “Store them the same place you store your umbrellas – you need at least one in your car and one on your hallstand, so you can always grab one before going outside,” Professor Aranda says. “And if you get caught short, you can always use your umbrella for sun protection.”
You should also wear sunglasses that have an Australian Standard eye protection factor rating of 10 as these block almost all UV radiation. “Your eyes are very sensitive and you can actually get a melanoma in your eye,” Professor Aranda says. “If you wear prescription glasses and you haven’t got a pair that goes dark in the sun, buy clip-on cover-ups that go over the top of your spectacles.”
To find out more about how you can be sun safe, visit cancer.org.au.
Looking for some accessories to stay sun safe? Check out our below picks for this summer!