As a teenager and young woman I never used sunblock, and enjoyed letting the sun tan my English Rose-type skin. I never thought about the long-term consequences of becoming sunburnt, and remember two occasions clearly when I’d overdone the sunbathing on Camber Sands beach and ended up burnt and peeling. I don’t ever remember reading warnings about sitting in the sun, or maybe if I did I ignored them.
As I entered my fifties, I started to notice a few little brown patches on my arms. Working in Dermatology as a medical secretary I found out that these are called actinic keratoses, and are due to sun damage. I don’t remember ever reading warnings about actinic keratosis either as a teenager, or maybe if I did I ignored it and thought that nothing untoward would ever happen to me (ha, ha….bad mistake!).
The skin starts to complain in middle-age about all those times it was made to burn under a hot sun. When I began to type Dermatology clinic letters I was amazed at the amount of middle-aged people visiting the clinic who had suspicious lumps or moles on their skin. It seemed the world and his wife had a skin blemish that they were worried about. Some of the lumps turned out to be harmless, but some were basal cell carcinomas (slow-growing skin cancers that did not spread around the body), and even worse, some were melanomas. Melanomas are life threatening and can spread around the body like wildfire. My husband’s sister went to the GP regarding a painful arthritic knee, and he spotted a black lump on the back of her lower leg that she hadn’t noticed. It turned out to be a melanoma, which thankfully was caught in time. Unfortunately she now has a scar on the back of her leg which resembles a shark bite.
After one of the consultants in the clinic noticing a small colourless patch on the side of my nose, I decided to have it removed. I was surprised to find out it was a basal cell carcinoma, or ‘rodent ulcer’. My skin was fighting back from that beach party at Camber Sands in 1978.
Now I’m ultra careful regarding applying sunscreen and not sitting in the sun. In fact I don’t like sunbathing now anyway, and have sat in the shade for many years. However, the damage I did to my skin as a youngster is now starting to make itself known, but thankfully 3 years later the rodent ulcer has not grown back. Sam has now had various suspicious skin blemishes removed too, but biopsies have proved negative so far. I try to tell my sons to use sunscreen, but they’re not listening…..
All this sunscreen has one big drawback though. We need the effect of sun on our skin for our body to make Vitamin D to aid good bone density. I probably now have low Vitamin D levels! You can’t win can you?