Ladies and gentlemen, we need to talk about your skin. Summer has come to a close and on our calendars that means it’s time to book your annual skin cancer screening.
But what’s involved in a skin check, you may ask? And what are some of the best ways you can keep your skin protected and know when a spot needs a closer look? We sat down with our very own Iris Looi, PA-C,MMSc. to get the answers to some of your top skin cancer, skin exam, and skin protection questions. Of course, this is no replacement for an in-person appointment, so don’t forget to book your skin exam while it’s top of mind! We look forward to seeing you soon and taking care of your skin from tip to toe.
*SCHEDULE YOUR SKIN CANCER CHECK*
Russak+(Q): So, what happens during a skin exam or skin cancer screening?
Iris Looi, PA-C, MMSc. (A): An important question! A skin exam or skin cancer screening always takes place at our office with one of our licensed members of staff. We will ask you to fully undress to make sure we can examine your skin thoroughly, starting at your scalp and across your face all the way down to your toes. We almost always use a dermatoscope which is an important dermatological tool that looks and works like a microscope with polarized light. This allows us to better see patterns and pigment in lesions. Based on this examination, we’ll decide if a mole/lesion requires further analysis be that through a biopsy, photo tracking or monitoring over time.
Q. What are you looking for during a skin exam?
A. I’m looking for specific patterns, colors or features in moles that will reassure us that there is nothing to worry about or that will alert me and my team that a mole may be atypical, precancerous or skin cancer and will require further attention.
Q. How frequently should a skin check exam be done?
A. The recommendation is that you should have a skin cancer screening and skin check once a year regardless of your risk factors or family history. However, there are some patients who will need to come in more frequently, including patients with a history of skin cancer or precancerous lesions who may come in every 6 months or every 3 months. Nevertheless, what I always like to tell patients is that if they notice anything growing or changing, then they should absolutely come back to us to have it checked (even though the recommendation for a skin exam is just once a year). It’s always better to be safe and see a professional. Early detection of skin cancer saves lives every year.
Q. What are some vulnerable areas that are susceptible to skin cancer, for both men and women?
A. The most common area to find skin cancer is the nose where we typically find basal cell carcinoma (you may be familiar with the celebrity Hugh Jackman who has had several basal cell carcinomas found and removed from his nose). For melanoma, the most common area in women tends to be the lower leg. That all being said, skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body from the palms of the hands to the soles of the feet. Often, I’ll look at the bottom of my patients’ feet and they’ll always ask me why I do that. I’ll share the story of Bob Marley who died from a melanoma that started between his toes – a reminder that skin cancer can start wherever there is skin.
Q. What does an irregular mole look like?
A. We always tell patients to look out for the A,B,C,D and Es of melanoma in the skin.
- ‘A’ being asymmetry, meaning that if you were to fold the mole in half it would not be a mirror image of itself.
- ‘B’ refers to border, corresponding with irregularities or jagged edges along the perimeter of the mole.
- ‘C’ is color – we look out for colors that are even a little bit atypical including dark brown, red, blue or purple.
- ‘D’ is diameter. Anything over 6mm in diameter (or the size of a pencil eraser) requires attention.
- Most important of them all is ‘E’, for evolving. Anything that has changed or is changing needs to be brought in for a professional examination.
Q. What is your personal SPF regimen and what are Russak Dermatology Clinic’s recommendations and offerings when it comes to sun protection and care?
A. The top recommendation is to use sunscreen every single day and reapply every 2 to 3 hours. That’s the baseline. Also…
- I personally like to use EltaMD UV Clear SPF 50 on my face as it feels very light and is for acne-prone skin so won’t clog pores and cause breakouts. The other one I like is SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion SPF 50 which has a slight tint to it. It’s a mineral sunscreen so it protects the skin with filters that sit atop the skin.
- In terms of sunscreen for the body, you should be applying sunscreen at least 20 minutes before you go outside and reapply every 2 to 3 hours, especially if you are going to be in and out of the water. A lot of patients find that sprays are easier to put on and use, especially if you’ll be in and out of the pool or the ocean.
- Beyond sunscreen, at Russak Dermatology Clinic we recommend using daily topical antioxidants that can help counteract free radicals and years of sun exposure as well as treatments like Clear+Brilliant and chemical peels that can help minimize and correct accumulated sun damage. Rash guards or UPF clothing can also be very effective and are increasingly popular. One brand that we recommend is Coolibar which has a good range of products with UPF 50+ that work well.
Q. Finally, is there such a thing as a healthy tan?
A. The answer is 100% no. There is no such thing as a healthy tan. Any time you get a tan it means there is damage happening within the DNA which can lead to precancers and skin cancer spots. So, the myth of getting that ‘pre-tan’ at a tanning salon before going on vacation is just that – a myth – and a dangerous one at that. A better option for getting that healthy glow? Try a self-tanner like St. Tropez and save your skin!
Thank you, Iris Looi, PA-C, MMSc. for all of your incredible insights and recommendations! Ready to book your annual skin check?