Skin Cancer Awareness month: How to protect ourselves this summer

Whilst it’s lovely to feel bronzed and sun kissed as we enter summer, it comes with its risk – as May is Skin Cancer Awareness month, what better time to note the main symptoms and causes of skin cancer.  

Picture this. Your mum is listening to the radio in the morning as you’re getting ready for the day. While you’re going about your morning, the theme of ‘Skin Cancer’ keeps coming up in conversation, and you suddenly realise this could actually be you, after noticing a strange new mole.

It turns out, listening to the radio in the morning was the best thing you could have ever done.

Charlotte Whitehead is a 22 year old from Warwick, and despite being extremely cautious all her life in protecting her skin from the sun, had a very real skin cancer scare earlier this year.

“My mum would have Chris Evans on every morning, and he’d had a few skin cancer scares, I can’t remember the exact details”, Charlotte recalled. “Obviously I was hearing this all the time, and I was aware of this mole I had on my shoulder.

“Because I’d heard it being discussed, I was observing it basically everyday and over the course of a year, the mole I was worried about changed dramatically. I remember the main bit of advice was that if your moles change, you should get them checked, so after a year of worrying, that’s what I did.”

After scheduling a GP appointment, Charlotte was told by her GP, there would be no definitive way of ruling out skin cancer without removing the mole on her shoulder.

“I remember just really panicking, with all the what if’s going through my head”, she said. “I couldn’t work out how this had happened, as I’ve always been so good at protecting my skin – I literally lather myself in factor 50, never anything below.

“In the end I decided just to get it removed, which was scary as I’m not good with blood, but I’m so glad I did, because as soon as it was removed I did feel relieved.”

Thankfully, Charlotte was given the all clear, and did not require any further treatment. However, had it not been for the awareness of skin cancer, her concerns may never have been addressed, proving the importance of skin cancer awareness month.

Sadly, not everyone is given this good news, as Cancer Research predicts that around 16,744  people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the UK every year, with sun damage being a primary cause for this.

Even more concerning is the fact that 43% of 18-25 year olds admit to using sunbeds, according to Campaign Collective, enhancing the risk of skin cancer even further.

It is very easy for us twenty-somethings to assume that, yes the statistics are alarming, but it won’t ever happen to me surely. I’ll be okay using the sunbeds, and if I forget to apply SPF on holiday, it won’t matter – right?


Cancer Research also sadly predicts that there are 2,341 skin cancer related deaths in the UK every year, proving more than ever that now is the time for us to prevent any further skin damage by protecting ourselves from the sun.

So how do we do this?

Jenny Califano is an aesthetician and educator at House of Hilt skincare, and explained how we can take steps now, to protect ourselves in the future.

“Everyone, regardless of skin colour, needs to apply SPF on a daily basis”, Jenny said. “If you have a darker complexion, mineral sun creams have improved significantly in recent years, and no longer leave a chalky, white cast. 

“You should also be reapplying your sun protector every 2 hours for optimum skin protection. Ideally, try and avoid chemical sun protectors as they can contain toxic ingredients that can penetrate into the bloodstream. UV rays also penetrate through glass, so even if you’re inside all day, your skin is still susceptible to skin damage.

“Sun damage is cumulative, so skin protection must be a 365 day commitment. Adding it into your skincare routine is easily done, and is extremely low-maintenance.”

So, now that we know how exactly to best protect our skin from the sun, what signs do we look out for? 

Mary Alice Mina is a registered dermatologist, and sheds some light on the various forms of skin cancer, and which specific signs to be wary of.

“The first common skin cancer we’ll cover here is melanoma. People seem to be most familiar with melanoma, which often presents as a brown, new spot on the skin”, Mary explained. “Typically, they do not arise from moles that someone already has, but rather ‘de novo’ which is why a new mole is something to be wary of.”

“The brown spot may have an irregular border, irregular pigmentation, or it could be larger than a pencil eraser. These are all concerning signs of a melanoma. The stage of the melanoma will also determine how it’s treated. Early or thin melanomas can be treated safely and effectively in your dermatologist’s office. Intermediate or thick melanomas will typically see our surgical oncologist colleagues for removal along with a sentinel lymph node biopsy.”

Although Charlotte was initially alarmed by the mole on her shoulder, there are many other symptoms to look out for that are not just limited to moles.

Cancer Research also suggests that red patches on the skin, lumps and sores that don’t heal are also potential signs of skin cancer. Simply being aware of how your skin normally looks, can also help you to spot these signs earlier, and reduce the risk further.

“The most common type of skin cancer out there is a basal cell carcinoma, which is the most common cancer in the world”, Mary explained. “They tend to be pink, shiny papules that occur on sun exposed skin like the nose, cheeks, ears, scalp, hands and neck. 

“Signs that you should get it checked out include any pain or bleeding. Fortunately, when caught early, they are easily treated in your dermatologist’s office.

“Squamous cell carcinomas are the second most common skin cancers and their numbers are on the rise. These cancers are also caused by the sun’s UV radiation and tend to have a more ‘ warty’ appearance and are often tender or painful. Again, they most commonly present on sun exposed skin.”

Mary also explained that all three forms of skin cancer can easily be prevented by effective SPF use from an early age, so what better time for us to start protecting our skin than now?

“If you have a spot on the skin that’s worrisome, be sure to see your dermatologist for an evaluation”, she continued. “As dermatologists, we love to be able to reassure our patients if it is benign, and if it’s not, we are glad that you sought care. 

“Not infrequently, we’ll spot something else that needs attention during that visit, so it’s beneficial to be seen, even if it’s just for reassurance.”

Hopefully, now you feel more well-informed in the different variations of skin cancer, and feel more knowledgeable on the symptoms to look out for. 

Vigilance when it comes to protecting our skin is vital, and can actually be life-saving, if spotted early, like Charlotte.

So whether we’re in May or not, skin cancer awareness is vital all year round, – especially as we head into the summer months. So grab your SPF, check your skin regularly, and please, if nothing else, avoid the sunbeds at all costs.

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