The sun’s ultraviolet rays are assailing our skin all the time. The more you are able to protect yourself by wearing sunscreen, covering up exposed skin, wearing a hat, and sticking to the shade, the better your skin’s long-term health. But it always pays to be cautious when it comes to new marks or bumps on your skin.
Here are some things to keep an eye out for.
Freckles are small light-brown patches which show up on your skin in areas that are exposed to sunlight. You may see them on your face, particularly across your forehead and nose, or on your shoulders, chest, forearms, and upper back.
For the most part, freckles are harmless and tend to fade to a much lighter shade during the winter months. Freckles are usually small and symmetrical meaning that if you drew a line through the centre, it would look the same on either side.
However, if you notice any freckles becoming darker, or getting larger and changing shape, you should bring them to the attention of your dermatologist right away. Some forms of skin cancer can resemble freckles when they first show up.
Also known as age or liver spots, these are large dark patches that appear on your skin as you get older. Strictly speaking, they do not really have anything to do with age, but rather with the amount of time you’ve spent in the sun over the years.
The spots tend to show up on hands, forearms, the chest and face, and their colour tends to range from pale purple, to brown, through to gray. They are larger than freckles, and some can even be as large as quarters. You should also show these to a dermatologist to make sure they are not harmful.
To a certain extent, the appearance of solar lentigines can be reduced with certain topical products.
These are small rough patches of skin that show up in areas that are most frequently exposed to the sun: your forehead, scalp, nose, and chest.
They may appear whitish, yellowish, or pinkish in color, or they may be the same color as the surrounding skin – the main difference being the rough, scaly, and flaky texture of the patches.
Again, these need to be checked out by a dermatologist. While not necessarily dangerous at first, if left untreated for too long, actinic keratosis can sometimes develop into skin cancer.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
This is a form of skin cancer which usually develops as a firm reddish or purplish bump. The area may become scaly or crusty, and often bleeds easily.
These small bumps tend to appear on areas of your skin that consistently receive exposure to the sun, such as the scalp, forehead, nose, ears, neck and chest.
If you have a similar-looking blemish, contact your doctor immediately. This is a very treatable form of skin cancer so long as it is detected early.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
This is the most common form of skin cancer, and it can present in many different ways. Sometimes it appears as a “pearly” flesh bump that is approximately the same color as the skin around it. Other times it can appear as a raised area with visible blood vessels. It can also look like a mole with a large “divot” in the middle of it.
As with other types of skin cancer, these tend to appear on areas of your skin that have seen the most direct exposure to the sun, but they can also appear on areas that are often covered up such as your torso.
If you suspect you have a basal cell carcinoma, see your doctor right away. Treatment usually involves its removal, and the killing of any cancer cells in the surrounding area through electricity or cryosurgery. If detected early, it is very treatable.
Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. While it is treatable if detected early enough, it can spread much faster than other types of skin cancer, and can begin to infiltrate bones and organs if left untreated.
Melanoma typically presents as a black or brown spot on the skin with no symmetrical borders, although it can sometimes be light pink or even skin colored. Melanoma is the result of a mutation in the skin cells caused by ultraviolet radiation and requires immediate treatment.
If you suspect that you have found a melanoma spot on your body, get it examined by your doctor immediately.
It is a good idea to see a dermatologist once a year regardless of whether or not you have any immediate concerns. Remember that good skin health begins with prevention. Wear sunscreen year-round, even in winter, and do not expose your skin to the sun unnecessarily.