Moles are extremely common, with most people having several moles on their skin. They are usually nothing to worry about, unless they begin to change in appearance, particularly size, shape or colour. Moles are formed when melanocyte cells form a cluster instead of being spread out.
In some cases, moles can develop into melanoma skin cancer so understanding your moles and what worrying signs to look out for is vital for catching and treating melanoma skin cancer early. Understanding how to protect your skin and keep your moles safe is also key in preventing skin cancer from developing in the first instance.
Most people often associate sun damage and skin cancer development with the warmer months, however harmful UV rays are emitted all year round. Here we will discuss how to effectively safeguard your moles and your skin from skin cancer and what to do if you are worried about a mole or lesion on the skin.
How to keep your moles safe
The appearance of a new mole or a change to an existing mole could be an indication of melanoma skin cancer so it is very important to regularly check your moles to monitor for any changes and to actively protect your skin and moles from the sun. When checking your moles at home, there is an easy to remember acronym (ABCDE) to help you identify any worrying changes. If any of these describe a mole you have, you should get it professionally checked:
A: Asymmetry – if one half doesn’t match the other half
B: Borders – if the mole has uneven borders
C: Colour – if there is a variety of colours in the mole
D: Diameter – if the mole grows larger than a pencil eraser (¼ inch)
E: Evolution – if the mole evolves in size, shape, colour, elevation or if there is a new characteristic
On a day-to-day basis, there are many steps you can take to protect your skin and keep your moles safe, these include:
- Wear sunscreen when the skin is exposed to sunlight
- Don’t use sunbeds
- Avoid direct sunlight when it is at its strongest around midday
- Wear loose, light clothing to cover the skin from the sunlight
- Wear a hat and sunglasses when out in the sun
If you follow all the advice to safeguard your skin you should be able to completely avoid sunburn, however, if you do burn your skin in the sun, there are some things you can do to help:
- Monitor your moles for any changes following the sunburn such as shape, size, or colour of the mole and any new characteristics such as itching, bleeding or crusting. ● Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated
- Have a cool bath or shower and place a damp cloth on the affected area ● Soothing lotions can work well to calm the skin and are best used following a bath or shower to trap the water on the skin
- Avoid the sun while your skin heals
Suncream advice to keep your moles safe
Everyone should be using sun cream to keep their skin and moles safe when exposed to sunlight. The sun emits harmful UV rays all year round and even on cloudy days up to 80% of the sun’s harmful rays can penetrate your skin.
Sun cream helps prevent skin cancer by protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. It is recommended that the sunscreen you use offers broad-spectrum protection (protects against UVA and UVB rays), has an SPF of 30 or higher (ideally SPF 50) and is water-resistant. It is important to remember that a high number SPF lasts the same amount of time as a low number SPF so the time spent outside between re-applications should always be the same regardless of the SPF.
Most people apply less than half of the suncream amount required to provide the level of protection indicated on the packaging, and people tend to miss areas too, such the back and sides of the neck, temples, ears and behind the ears. When using suncream, as the bare minimum you should apply at least six full teaspoons (approximately 36 grams) to cover the body of an average adult and reapply every two hours. Apply the sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going out in the sun to allow it to dry and then again shortly after heading outdoors.
Suncream can go out of date so it is important to check your bottle if you’ve not used it for some time. Most brands of sunscreen will retain their original strength for at least three years and should have an expiration date on the bottle. Any obvious changes to colour or consistency could be an indicator that the sunscreen has gone off and you need to get a new bottle to get the needed protection.
Dietary requirements to keep your skin safe
In the UK, we get less UV exposure due to our climate so it is recommended we get vitamin D through other means such as foods or vitamin supplements. From late March to the end of September, most of us should be able to get all the vitamin D needed from the sunlight but during the winter months, there are some foods that can help to boost levels. These include: ● Oily fish
- Red meat
- Egg yolks
- Fortified foods (including some fat spreads and breakfast cereals)
By increasing vitamin D levels through diet, our bodies can get the vitamin D it needs, without increasing the risk of skin cancer.
Mole type by location
Moles can be seen anywhere on the body but there are certain areas where moles are more likely to be identified as cancerous and therefore should be monitored and safeguarded more regularly.
In women, melanoma skin cancer is often seen on the lower legs, with 42% of melanomas identified here. In men, cancerous moles are commonly found on the head, neck, chest and back, with these areas accounting for 60% of malignant moles.
As the development of melanoma skin cancer is often associated with sun exposure, moles that are located on areas of the body which are exposed to the sun are more likely to turn cancerous.
Other skincare factors to take into consideration
Tanning is not something dermatologists would ever recommend as it is the body’s way of trying to protect itself from harmful ultraviolet rays.
Skin colours have been classified on what is called the Fitzpatrick scale into 6 broad skin types. These range from those who have very fair skin to those who have black African/Caribbean skin. Those on the lower end of the Fitzpatrick scale are likely to burn in the sun and will not tan beyond a certain point, no matter how long they stay out in the sun. The body will reach a natural cut off point where it can’t produce any more melanin and excessive tanning beyond this point will increase your risk of developing skin cancer.
Mole checking with a dermatologist
A professional mole check at a mole check clinic can be hugely reassuring as they can help to diagnose melanoma skin cancer early, which is vital for quick treatment and better long term outcomes. A dermatologist mole check is also an opportunity to get professional advice on how to check your moles at home and how to safeguard your skin when out in the sun.
There are a couple of different mole check services offered in a mole check clinic that are far more detailed and advanced than can be achieved with an at-home mole check:
Single Mole Check
If you have a single mole that you are concerned about it can be checked in isolation. A single mole is often scanned using a dermatoscope which uses magnification and lighting to review the mole in microscopic detail.
Full Body Mole Check
If you have a lot of moles on your body, a consultant dermatologist is able to conduct a full body mole check, examining the skin for every mole and lesion. The moles will be distinguished as either benign or malignant (cancerous) and removal or treatment options will be discussed if a cause for concern is found.
Full Body Mole Map
Full body mole mapping provides state of the art laser guided computer mapping of your entire skin and produces high-resolution images of individual moles. Artificial intelligence is used to categorise the moles as benign or malignant along with the expertise of the consultant dermatologist. When you come in for a check-up your body will be imaged again and these will be compared to the previous images. Its ability to compare images and identify changes makes it a highly accurate tool in the development of skin cancer.
Conveniently located in South Manchester, Cheadle village town centre, Everything Skin Clinic is a unique Consultant-led dermatology clinic which offers treatment of all skin conditions under one roof.
Our team of highly trained Consultant Dermatologists have completed specialist training in Dermatology and are on the specialist register of the General Medical Council. All our consultants hold substantive contracts with the best Dermatology centres in leading NHS hospitals. You can, therefore, be assured of the highest quality private dermatology care.
Our private dermatology clinic is unique in that all aspects of dermatology treatments are catered for. From blemishes to eczema or psoriasis, facial redness to mole mapping and mole removal, from excision of melanoma to Mohs Surgery for basal cell carcinoma, any skin, hair or nail disorders are diagnosed and treated at Everything Skin Clinic by our expert
In 2020, Everything Skin Clinic joined The Dermatology Partnership. The aim of the partnership is to build the UK’s leading dermatology group, defined by its clinical excellence and focus on leading dermatological care.