With the snow upon us and winter on it's way, it's important not to forget to protect your skin. The sun's rays can be damaging at any time of year and that is why most dermatologists recommend wearing sunscreen on exposed skin daily, even in winter. But keeping your skin healthy is not only about protection, it's also about getting to know what's normal for you. Once you know what's normal, you can spot the spots that may have changed. If you do notice any changes, this may indicate a trip to the doctor is in order.
A monthly self-examination of your skin is a good place to start getting to know what is normal for your skin. Do your check in a well-lit room using a mirror so you can look closely at your entire body:
- Lift your arms and look at the both sides of your body in the mirror. Check your underarms and all around both arms. Examine your hands, each finger, between your fingers and your fingernails.
- Next, check the back, front and sides of each leg. Look at the tops and soles of your feet, your toenails and the spaces between your toes.
- Examine your face, neck, back of your neck and your scalp. You may find it helpful to use a hand mirror and full-length mirror, along with a comb, to check your scalp.
- Have someone you trust help you check hard-to-see areas.
SO what exactly are you supposed to be looking for? Not everyone knows so here is a simple way to remember - A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I:
A - assymetry - check for spots where one half is different from the other
B - border - check for spots that have uneven or blurred borders
C - colour - check for spots that are blue, black or red
D - diameter - check for spots that have a diameter greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser)
E - evolving - check for spots that have changed in shape or colour (this will be easier to notice if you are examining your skin regularly)
F - feel - check for spots with a crusty texture or that feel raised or with an uneven surface
G - growing - check for spots that are getting bigger
H - hurt - check for spots that hurt
I - itch or inflamation - check for spots that itch or are inflamed
While it is important to request that your doctor also checks your skin at your annual physical, Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is fast moving so you should be aware of what to look for on a regular basis. If you spot something unusual, make an appointment to see your doctor or dermatologist!
Sources: The Esthetic Institute, Betty-Ann Newton; Web MD; Canadian Cancer Society (www.cancer.ca)