July is UV Safety Awareness Month, aimed at spreading awareness about how important it is to protect skin from the harmful side effects of the sun. Associate Hannah Ling shares her personal experience about why it is important to protect your skin.

It’s that time of year again! A time where PTO, H2O, and SPF are all frequently utilized. A time when sunglasses, shade, and a sun-kissed glow all make an appearance on our much-anticipated beach vacations. But what most people aren’t prepared for, besides the occasionally delayed flight or forgotten, unpacked item, is the danger that comes with unmanaged skin protection. What many consider an annoying routine before jumping in the water and making a splash may require more attention than you think.

While I have never been too keen on sunbathing, I’ve enjoyed those few sunny days in the UK. I have used a two-week holiday somewhere hot or tropical to return home and show off a nice tan. Spending time outside has many benefits, including stress relief, increased physical activity, and the absorption of vitamin D. Still, despite the preventative measures I thought I took to protect myself from the sun and harmful exposure, I found myself in a bit of a predicament.

Earlier this year, I noticed a few of my moles changing. To save ongoing anxiety, I visited the dermatologist who carried out a head-to-toe mole check where two suspicious moles were discovered, one on my back and one on my foot. I was told that the recommendation was to have them removed as a precaution. The two moles did not appear concerning to my eyes, but they were actually considered abnormal due to their cell structure, according to the specialist. It just shows how important it is to get a professional opinion. I could have continued thinking nothing was wrong when, in reality, I could have been in greater danger if nothing was addressed.

Following a two-week wait, the biopsy showed that the mole on my foot was fine, and no follow-up was required, but the mole on my back was a Stage 1 melanoma. When you hear the word “melanoma,” it is difficult not to think the worst. The dermatologist was very reassuring and advised early intervention. The doctor did additional surgery on my back to remove a larger area of skin around the original mole to ensure all melanoma cells were removed. Although I have a 5-centimeter scar on my back, I am relieved that all melanoma cells were successfully removed. I will have regular check-ups for the next few years since my skin is now sensitive and can potentially develop melanomas.

Although my one-year-old daughter and I share the same disdain for sunhats and constant sunscreen application, I know we will be grateful in the long run! Despite my experience, I still enjoy some sun exposure. However, I understand much more about why it is essential to look after your skin and teach valuable sun protective measures to the ones you love.

There is not enough time or attention given to skin health education, so I wanted to share my experience to shed light on this crucial topic. Skin disorders and other skin-related diseases are much easier to treat if found early. 90% of all skin cancers are caused by overexposure to UV radiation, which means that the majority of skin cancer cases are preventable by taking sun safety measures. I would encourage everyone to be mindful and vocal of skin concerns and to speak to a doctor if they are worried – it might be nothing, but you never know. Still, you will be thankful to have been proactive in taking control early.

Protect your skin from the sun by using sunscreen with a high SPF and UVA rating or wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, keep hydrated and seek shade in the peak times of the day, a hat, sunglasses, and clothing. More sun safety tips can be found here.