Melanoma: Read this before you go out in the sun

-May 29, Living -

Whilst it’s lovely that summer is finally here in the northern hemisphere, it’s often easy to forget that our love affair with beach holidays is a leading cause of the deadliest type of skin cancer – Melanoma. The Melanoma Research Foundation, estimates that over 160,000 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2017, while in the UK 15,000 people are being diagnosed each year. The key is to get diagnosed early, if caught in the early stages then melanoma is a very curable cancer, so if you spot anything on your skin which you feel isn’t quite right then go straight to your doctor. Treatment is usually simple, and many doctors can carry out diagnosis and treatment on the premises, as well as follow up appointments.


However, did you know that doctors can now routinely screen for skin cancer before you have noticed a suspect mole or skin lesion? You could book a screening in when you go for a facial, if you wanted.


We spoke to one of New York’s leading dermatologists Dr. Julie Russak, who is also a skin cancer expert, and is one of the few doctors in New York City trained to use MelaFind®, the first FDA-approved non-invasive and painless medical device to detect melanoma in its earliest stages. She gave us her advice for what to look out for and what to ask if you’re going to a doctor with a concern about a mole or freckle for the first time.


Q: Amongst many other things, you’re known for your ground-breaking work that detects skin cancer in its early stages. What is your advice for people who don’t get screened regularly? And if they’re worried about a suspect mole and going to a dermatologist for the first time, what sort of questions should they ask? 


A: My advice for people not getting screened regularly is to be aware of your skin and changing freckles/moles.  But don’t go by what only you can see.  Many times a family member, friend, hairstylist or masseuse will be the one to point out something that jumps out at them.  I have had patients come in and say their hairstylist noticed a spot on their scalp or that their masseuse saw something different on their back etc.  Utilise another set of eyes in between skin checks. Refer to the ABCDE’s of Melanoma when analysing your skin:


  • Asymmetry- If you draw a line through the mole, the two halves will not match, meaning it is asymmetrical, a warning sign for melanoma.
  • Border – The borders of an early melanoma tend to be uneven. The edges may be scalloped or notched.
  • Colour- Most benign moles are all one colour — often a single shade of brown. Having a variety of colours, such as brown, tan or black is another warning signal.
  • Diameter – Benign moles usually have a smaller diameter than malignant ones. Melanomas usually are larger in diameter than the eraser on your pencil tip (¼ inch or 6mm), but they may sometimes be smaller when first detected.
  • Evolution –  if the mole is changing, growing or evolving (this is the most indicative sign that something may be going awry).


With summer in the air, people are rushing out into the sunshine to get their vitamin D and not necessarily thinking to put on SPF as it’s not super hot outside yet, or worse – because they want a base tan. We know that SPF is VERY important even on cloudy days — which brands do you recommend? 


A: I am a huge fan of SkinCeuticals SPF and Elta MD SPF’s.  They are lightweight, have mineral physical blockers, they’re fragrance free and won’t irritate the skin.  Daily Antioxidant + SPF – to adequately help protect the skin from the damaging effects of the sun, an antioxidant & an SPF need to be part of an everyday skincare routine.  An antioxidant, such as SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic & Phloretin CF, can help reinforce the skin’s natural protection against free radicals and reduce the appearance of photo-damage and wrinkles.  In my opinion, you’d be doing your skin a disservice not to use this power duo.


Q: Do you have any final advice?


A: Protect your skin by seeking shade, wearing physical sunscreens with zinc and titanium dioxide, and protective clothing.  Avoid being in the sun between 10am-4pm, as that is when the sun is strongest. Do not use tanning beds and avoid blistering sunburns.


Check here if you’d like to know more about Dr. Russak’s skin cancer screening and here if you’re interested in the treatment options she offers on site at her state-of-the-art surgery.


If you’d like some expert advice on how to fake a lovely glowing suntan, without endangering your precious skin by burning it in the sun, Nichola Joss tells us how to get a professional looking self tan in the comfort of your own home here.

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