By MARIA JI.
Yes, it’s freezing. You feel like you haven’t even seen the sun in months. But when it comes to skin health, there are things you can be doing right now, in the dead of winter.
1. Get your skin checked by a health professional
Sun safety may not be at the forefront of your mind at this time of year, but winter is actually the best time to undergo skin procedures and mole checks. This is because skin can be protected afterwards and kept out of direct sunlight.
The Skin Institute actually offers a free check on one to two suspicious moles, so if you have any worrying ones, you should definitely get them checked out. Younger people should be checked all over every two to three years, unless you have specific concerns, or a genetic predisposition to moles and skin cancer.
2. Keep an eye on your moles and freckles
Freckles have a lower risk, compared to moles, of developing into melanoma, but it’s good to check both your freckles and moles every so often. A helpful way you can identify the characteristics of unusual moles that may indicate melanomas or other skin cancers is to think of the letters ABCDE:
A is for asymmetrical shape. Look for moles with irregular shapes, such as two very different-looking halves.
B is for irregular border. Look for moles with irregular, notched or scalloped borders, which are characteristics of melanomas.
C is for changes in colour. Look for growths that have many colours, or an uneven distribution of colour.
D is for diameter. Look for new growth in a mole larger than 1/4 inch (about 6 millimeters).
E is for evolving. Look for changes over time, such as a mole that grows in size or that changes colour or shape. Moles may also evolve to develop new signs and symptoms, such as new itchiness or bleeding.
3. Avoid the sun if possible
This is particularly important between 10am and 4pm during the November to March period, because this is when the largest amount of UV radiation from the sun hits New Zealand. But the sun can burn and damage your skin in any month, especially at high altitudes or on reflective surfaces such as snow or ice. The vampire lifestyle is obviously not feasible for humans, so just plan your outdoor activities to minimise exposure.
4. Wear hats
It is so hard to find a decent hatter these days (do they even exist any more?), but take sartorial inspiration from the likes of Audrey Hepburn and dapper gentlemen of decades of old. New Zealand has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. The ‘just this once’ mentality when spending time in the sun without protection is reckless; once too long in the sun is enough to cause damage to your skin cells’ DNA, which increases your risk of developing skin cancer later in life.
5. Wear sunscreen
There are two types of sun radiation that get through the ozone layer: UVA and UVB. Although UVB is the form of ultra violet radiation that is the number one cause of sunburn and damage to cell DNA, it’s important to choose a sunscreen that protects against both types.
UVA plays a major part in skin ageing, so a high quality sunscreen that blocks UVA will prevent premature wrinkles. Which is a plus, since wrinkles aren’t a beauty trend likely to grasp the imagination of our society any time soon.
Skin cancer expert Dr. Piergiovanni Marzinotto says that it’s important to choose a sunscreen that meets the Australian and New Zealand Standard AS/NZS2604 and has a broad spectrum and a sun protection factor of 30+ (SPF30+). “This should be re-applied every two to four hours when in the sun and/or swimming.”
He uses Cherry Black SPF30 Facial Sunscreen, which has been developed in conjunction with the Skin Institute. Fragrance-free and unbleached, its formula is 20% zinc oxide (and contains vitamin B and cherry plant extract).
6. Wear high UPF clothing
UPF, which stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor, is a measure of how well an item of clothing blocks UV radiation. If you can’t afford to update your wardrobe (or don’t want to), you can buy colourless laundry additives like SunGuard™ that increase the UPF of garments already in your closet. They last multiple wash cycles, so they’re a simple addition to your skincare regime. Don’t forget to use sunscreen on the uncovered parts of your body though!