When we identify ourselves through our body, we look at our skin type, skin tone, hair type etc. But we never really think about categorizing the spots we have on our bodies—moles, freckles, birthmarks, you name it. We always refer to those brown or black dots on our body as moles, but do we really know why we have them, or more importantly, how do we know that they’re not a sign of cancer? According to WebMD “Moles occur when cells in the skin grow in a cluster instead of being spread throughout the skin. These cells are called melanocytes, and they make the pigment that gives skin its natural color. Moles may darken after exposure to the sun, during the teen years, and during pregnancy.” Although moles may all appear to look the same, their individual makeup can be differentiated by how long the mole has been there, and the size of the mole. EverydayHealth explains the types of moles listed below:
- Congenital moles. When a mole is present at birth, it is called a congenital mole, or congenital nevus. About 1 percent of people have congenital moles, and these moles may be at increased risk of turning into skin cancer.
- Acquired moles. Acquired moles account for most moles and usually develop during childhood or early adulthood. These moles are usually smaller than a quarter inch, and are thought to be due to excessive sun exposure. Most acquired moles will not develop into skin cancer.
- Atypical moles. Atypical moles (also known as dysplastic nevi) are larger than a pencil eraser and shaped irregularly. These moles are usually uneven in color, with a dark brown center. The borders of atypical moles may be irregular, with a lighter or reddish color, and unevenness or black dots around the edge. Atypical moles tend to run in families and they may be at increased risk of developing into skin cancer.
The most common mole that we find on our bodies is the congenital mole, which are moles that we basically seen for most of our lives. We’re born with those moles and most of the time they stay with us as we age. The acquired moles however are moles that develop as we age due to exposure of sun or chemicals that may harm our skin. Both congenital and acquired moles are not considered harmful, however, depending on skin care or exposure to the sun, they can be at risk of skin cancer. Lastly, we have atypical moles, which are known as irregular moles because they are larger than a pencil eraser, with an irregular shape and uneven color. These moles are the moles that we have to keep an eye out for because they have a higher chance of developing into skin cancer.
Types of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancers that anyone is at risk of. According to www.cancer.gov there are 76,380 cases of Melanoma expected for this year. Our skin is comprised of three layers: epidermis, dermis, and fat. The epidermis layer contains melanocytes, which are cells that produce melanin. So, the more melanin produced, the darker the skin pigmentation. Melanin is used to protect our body from too much sun exposure, so you can imagine, the darker the skin tone, the stronger your skin is from being sun damaged or premature aging. Skin cancer occurs when melanin levels are low, so it’s more likely for people with white skin to develop skin cancer, however, dark skin tones are just as likely to get skin cancer because their high melanin levels are not enough to protect the skin from sun damage. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “in African American skin, melanin provides a sun protection factor (SPF) approximately equivalent to 13.4, compared to 3.4 in white skin.” So, even if dark skin has natural UV protection built into the skin, it’s still not enough to support skin from damage. There are four types of skin cancer that everyone is at risk of:
- Actinic Keratoses
- Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
Of these four types of skin cancer, BCC, SCC, and Melanoma are the most common. BCC can be found in any skin tone, especially skin tones that have been damaged from UV rays from tanning beds. It’s important to seek treatment for BCC because if left untreated, then the damage will deepen to each layer of the skin and even bones. SCC is similar however as we age, SCC develops in any part of the body, so it does not necessarily have to be the area where the skin has been exposed to UV ray damage. Lastly, the deadliest of all cancers, Melanoma can quickly spread all over the body. Again, skin cancer does not discriminate, anyone can get it, though lighter skin has a higher chance of having skin cancer, dark skin is still at risk if we don’t take the necessary precautions. Learn to identify signs of skin cancer, SELF has provided some signs of BCC and SCC:
Signs of Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
- A red scaly patch: A red, itchy spot of skin that doesn’t resolve in a few weeks with moisturization is most likely SCC. These might itch, but oftentimes do not, and can be easily confused for eczema.
- A bump that won’t stop bleeding: This can look like a little bump or pimple that begins to ulcerate. A sore that continually bleeds, heals, and splits open again, is a common sign of BCC but could also be SCC.
- A shiny bump: This nodule is usually pink, red, or white, but can also be tan, black, or brown and look like a regular mole.
- A pink growth: T he border will likely be slightly elevated and the center indented and maybe even crusty.
- A scar-like spot: This can be a sign of an aggressive form of BCC, so if you notice a white or yellow scar-like spot that appears shiny, see your derm ASAP.
You can also follow the ABCDE guide for Melanoma, which helps identify signs of Melanoma. You don’t necessarily have to have all of these signs, but if you do have one, then it’s recommended to consult with a doctor.
Causes of Skin Cancer
- Ultraviolet radiation found in sunlight and lights used in devices such as tanning beds
- Being exposed to toxic substances
- Conditions that weaken your immune system
We should all have a basic idea that skin cancer is caused because we hardly ever apply sunblock, but what about those who like to tan? Although some people like to have “bronzed” skin during summer, tanning can be dangerous, to the extent that too much tanning leads to skin cancer because of UV rays. Now one can argue that tanning in a bed is just as safe as tanning out in the daylight, but did you know that there is more than one type of UV ray that we’re exposed to?
What are UVA and UVB rays?
UVB rays: age skin cells and can damage their DNA. These rays are linked to long-term skin damage such as wrinkles, but they are also thought to play a role in some skin cancers. Most tanning beds give off large amounts of UVB, which has been found to increase skin cancer risk.
UVA rays: have slightly more energy than UVB rays. They can damage skin cells’ DNA directly, and are the main rays that cause sunburns. They are also thought to cause most skin cancers.
The strength of the UV rays reaching the ground depends on a number of factors, such as:
- Time of day: UV rays are strongest between 10 am and 4 pm.
- Season of the year: UV rays are stronger during spring and summer months. This is less of a factor near the equator.
- Distance from the equator (latitude): UV exposure goes down as you get further from the equator.
- Altitude: More UV rays reach the ground at higher elevations.
- Cloud cover: The effect of clouds can vary. Sometimes cloud coverage blocks some UV from the sun and lowers UV exposure, while some types of clouds can reflect UV and can increase UV exposure. What is important to know is that UV rays can get through, even on a cloudy day.
- Reflection off surfaces: UV rays can bounce off surfaces like water, sand, snow, pavement, or grass, leading to an increase in UV exposure.
Preventing Skin Cancer
Skin cancer can be easily prevented if we learn to take time to take care of our skin. Apart from wearing sunblock every day, if possible, try to cover up using a hat or an umbrella. Although covering up with long sleeves would be the best option, it’s not the best advice for 102 degree weather, so try to stay cool and fresh and drink lots and lots of water. You can also eat foods that can boost your immune system, so by eating the right nutrients, your skin is ready to defend your body from sun exposure and hyperpigmentation of the skin. Bustle recommends:
Orange, yellowish foods such as melon, mangos, carrots
Fruits high in vitamin c
Foods high omega
Just as smoking can lead to lung cancer, too much sun leads to skin cancer. With just one session in the tanning booth, you could potentially be harming your skin, so although you wish to go “bronze” for the summer, remember that your skin is your guard from letting bacteria into your body; without healthy skin what else is there to protect you? Whether you tan in a booth or out on the beach, tanning is dangerous—the reason your skin gets tanned is because it’s a form of protection from the overexposure of the sun, so next time you think about getting a tan ask yourself this: is a tan worth damaging my skin?
Moles have often been seen as an individual sign of beauty or originality. Just look at Marilyn Monroe’s famous mole that set her apart from others. Her look has even transformed and been imitated by others, such as Amy Winehouse, creating new looks such as the “modern mole” which replaces the iconic beauty mark with a piercing. POPSUGAR discusses more on the history of the mole and the unique look it brings out. You can also prevent sun damage and hyperpigmentation with some of our products, which you can check out here. Clear Essence SPF products reduce the possibility of developing new discolorations or moles caused by over exposure to the sun. Using these products daily also helps ensure an even skin tone and reduces the signs of
past damage. Apply sunscreen everyday, wear a hat, sunglasses, but what ever you do, help your skin fight against skin cancer. Your skin tone is beautiful just the way you are despite what may feel like an imperfection. As long as you keep your skin protected from developing skin cancer, you can let the real you shine through and be proud of any moles on your body!