Being sun and skin smart this summer

A freckle on her arm that changed colour turned out to be a malignant melanoma for former silver fern Adine Wilson. And with summer finally here, she’s urging New Zealanders to be cautious of being out in the sun, and learn how to check your skin for abnormalities. 

No one thinks it’ll happen to me, until it does.

When Adine Wilson’s husband pointed out to a freckle on her arm in 2004, she didn’t think much of it. The 25-year old netballer had everything going for her: a career in sport, a wedding to plan and her whole life before her.

It wasn’t until she noticed she had begun scratching it, and its colour changing to a darker shade that convinced her to see a doctor just to be sure. She remembers her doctor removing the mole and sending it off for testing as a precautionary standard practice.

Then a phone call changed everything.

“I was told to come in that very day and it couldn’t wait,” Wilson recalls, remembering the fear. At the doctor’s Wilson was told she had malignant Melanoma, which can be deadly if not treated in time.

“I didn’t entirely know what Melanoma was back then, other than hearing the word here and there in the media. A quick Google search reveals how scary it can be,” she says. Melanoma is largely caused by exposure to the sun’s UV rays and is more prevalent in people with fair hair and fair skin. However, genetics has a role to play if there is a family history of irregular moles.

It affects mostly people over 50 years old, however due to the hole in New Zealand’s Ozone layer and resulting lack of protection from damaging UV Rays, melanoma can occur in people as young as 25, such as Wilson.

While Wilson says she was terrified, she knows she was incredibly lucky to have caught it so early on from just a simple skin check. She says growing up in her era, people did not always have the ‘smartest’ sun protection practices.

“I remember jumping in the bath at the end of a long sunny day and feeling the water sting against my sunburned skin thinking we must’ve had a really good day out in in the sun,” she says of her childhood.

But now many experts, including Skin Institute and Melanoma New Zealand are carrying out concerted efforts to educate Kiwis about the dangers of sun exposure and how to become sun-savvy.

In their biggest ever survey, Skin Institute found 47 per cent of Kiwi women wear sunscreen every day, while only 11 per cent of men do the same. Out of the respondents who wore sunscreen, only 30 per cent chose zinc-based protection and only 34 per cent ‘usually’ reapply according to sunscreen guidelines.

Mark Izzard, Skin Cancer Surgeon at Skin Institute says it is important to check your skin on a regular basis and if you see something of concern contact a medical professional such as Skin Institute. Early diagnosis is essential in order to successfully remove the cancer and greatly increases cure rates.

“We cannot stress the importance of frequently checking your skin enough, with spot checks offered free of charge at the Skin Institute if you see something of concern,” he adds.

Wilson also urges Kiwis to get sun smart and start taking self-care before it’s too late.

“It certainly gave me a new level of respect for the sun and the damage it is capable of. I’m now much smarter in the sun, and apart from my regular check-ups, I make sure to stay on top of everyday things like using sun screen, not staying out exposed under direct sun light for extended periods and taking an umbrella to the beach,” she points out.

“I don’t need to avoid the sun to enjoy it, I just needed to get smarter about it,” she says.

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